Dubai: When she was buried, by the side of her husband in a corner of a meadow in front of their family home on a quaint hill in Cornwall last Wednesday, there were shells scattered on her grave.
Not a very uncommon practice for a last-rites ritual, one may say.
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Except, that those shells spread on the grave of Patricia Morris were sent all the way from Dubai. Her great grandchildren, who live in Dubai, had very lovingly collected those shells from the beach and sent them all the way to a continent away — to be scattered on her grave.
Three continents, three countries, three different cultures and several lives were all knit and bound into one composite whole called humanity, at Patricia’s final resting place: An American by birth, married to Britisher Claud Morris, with both husband wife later developing a strong affinity towards exploring the beauty and intricacies of Arab culture, travelling several times to the UAE and bonding big time with Arab life in general and one Emirati family in particular.
For both husband and wife, the allure of the printed word held much significance. Both came from a publishing background. It is therefore no wonder that Patricia’s book Mother Without a Mask and Claud’s seminal The Desert Falcon, a biography of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, are both remarkable in their literary and intellectual pursuits to showcase Arab life and the rich repertoire of Arab culture.
In the words of Ann Morris, the daughter of Patricia and Claud, “She [Patricia] was fascinated by the culture of the Arab world — and alongside my father believed fervently in the importance of understanding between cultures and people. They both worked for that throughout their lives.”
Patricia wrote Mother Without a Mask under her maiden name Holton first published in 1991, records the early part of her special relationship with an Emirati family, that remains anonymous in her writing — a family that she had visited for the last time in 2010, when she stayed with them in Abu Dhabi.
“She [Patricia] was fascinated by the culture of the Arab world — and alongside my father [Claud] believed fervently in the importance of understanding between cultures and people. They both worked for that throughout their lives.”
Throwing some more light into the lives of Patricia and Claud, who passed away in 2000, Ann wrote to Gulf News: “She [Patricia] was studying at Sarah Lawrence College when America entered the Second World War in December 1941. As soon as she was old enough, she left college to become a Red Cross nurse and travelled to Paris in 1944. When she returned to the US, she became involved in television production, producing an early magazine show. She came to England again in September 1948 to attend the wedding of a French woman whom she had served with in Paris and who had become a very close friend.”
“A real Hollywood romance,” is how Ann describes the love story that blossomed between Patricia and Claud. Elaborating on it, Ann writes: “After the [friend’s] wedding, in London for a few days, she met my father by chance and they fell in love and then she returned to New York. He wrote to her daily and sent her endless flowers and in December that year he travelled to New York and asked her to marry him. He was at that time a political columnist for the Daily Mirror newspaper in the UK. They were married a month later on January 22, 1949, and she came to live in England permanently — first in London, then in Wales, where they set up their own publishing business, and then back to London with many months and years spent in the Gulf.”
When Claud decided to showcase a better understanding of the Arab world publishing Middle East Magazine and then Voice of the Arab World, Patricia travelled with him to the Gulf. While her husband was busy interviewing and interacting with the members of the emerging UAE Government, Patricia met and became close friends with, among others, an Emirati family that was also interested in developing an understanding of the West. The teenage sons of the family came to spend several summers at the Moris’ home in London in the late 1970s, learning English customs and the language as well. This was a two-way cultural assimilation at its best that enriched the lives of all those who were part of that mosaic, all those who were within that shared space of an emotional and cultural bond.
“My father wrote probably the only authorised biography of [late] Sheikh Zayed The Desert Falcon, interviewing him on a number of occasions to carry that writing out,” Ann added.
Patricia was invited to spend time with the family, living with them in Al Ain, attending family weddings and other occasions as well as interacting with the women members of the family and learning in detail about the intricacies of Emirati culture and customs and the way of life.
Patricia’s last two trips to the UAE were in 2002 and 2010 when she spoke at two different conferences about the late Sheikh Zayed. Fittingly enough, she received a phone call from one of her Emirati ‘sons’, less than a week before she passed away.