Back in January of this year, I wrote about Viola IlmaThis post makes more sense if you first read Viola’s googliography., an older woman who influenced my childhood and who, it turns out, had a fascinating past.
Six months later, because the internet really is a giant serendipity dispenser, another person who knew Viola — Stu Gitlow — came across my post, as anyone googling Viola Ilma is now bound to do. He left a comment in which he mentioned Honor Holland, a frequent companion of Viola. She was often present when Viola and I spent those rainy afternoons researching stamps in her kitchen. Like Viola, Honor also wrote a book on philately, The Art of Postage Stamps.
Three months after that comment, I got the following email in my inbox:
I am Elisabeth Reich from Geneva, Switzerland, and I believe you may know my grandmother’s half sister, Honor Holland, a philatelist in New York.
Unfortunately, since I have lost contact with her, I wondered if you might be in a position to give me her address.
She was 10 years older than my late mother and should therefore be about 88.
I hope to hear from you and thank you in advance for your kind attention.
I did not have Honor’s address, but I was able to forward her Stu’s email address, and asked to be updated on the progress of her quest. The very next day I got a reply, which I reproduce verbatimLinks in the correspondence below were added by me. (with permission), as the story she tells is fascinating:
I have written to Stu Gitlow and am now waiting for a reply.
However, I think I can give you some update on the reason of Haile Selassie’s photograph.In my original post on Viola, I had written: “I vividly remember a picture of Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, hanging on a wall. I was under the impression she was related to him, for some reason.”
Honor’s grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) was a Swiss missionary in Ethiopia by the name of Theophilus Waldmeier.Here is a interesting description of his autobiography, on sale online for £500. He married Princess Yubdar and they had eight children, among them my great-grandmother Hannah and, I suppose, Viola’s mother or father. The family moved to Lebanon later-on and my great-grandmother was raised there. Mr Waldmeier founded the Brumana High School in Lebanon (still existing) and a psychiatric hospitalThe Lancet report on Waldmeier’s efforts in 1903.. My great-grandmother married a Mr Newson (who was Irish) and they moved to Cork. At my great-grandfather’s death (my grandmother was 8), the family moved to England where Hannah met Algernon Holland, Honor’s father.
When Haile Selassie was in exile in England, my great-grandmother spent a lot of time with him, as they were far away cousins. Therefore, she had the title of Princess Asfa Yilma. She even wrote a book about Ethiopia, Haile Selassie and their discussions. It’s title is Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia (published in 1936)Found on this page, third book from the top. It, in turn, is mentioned in other books on Ethiopia. and can still be bought today. It was recently reprinted.
After World War II, Honor moved to Ethiopia with a woman, perhaps already Viola. She lived in the palace as far as I know, but started a revolution against Haile Selassie with the crown prince as she felt something had to be done for the poor and hungry. Well, as history tells you it went wrong and she had to flee to New York, where you have met her.This part is just stunning.
I hope above will lift some of your childhood mysteries. However, I will keep you updated on the success of my research.
A day later, I received a third email from Elisabeth:
Here is the reply I got from Stu Gitlow:
I’m sorry to be the bearer of sad tidings, but I now understand that Honor passed away several years ago. I’ve asked Dick Beresford to provide me with any details he may have so that I can pass the information along to you. I worked closely with Viola Ilma, Honor, and Dick for quite a few years while I was in high school. They were all always friendly and supportive, frequently surrounding themselves with young people sharing similar interests. I lost touch with them all after I left for college in 1980 but more recently began to hear from Dick again.
My apologies for this sad news.
I had the pleasure to meet Honor several times in Switzerland. She used to come and visit us from time to time when I was a child and young adult. As I moved several times, and as my mother passed away at a relatively young age, we unfortunately lost track, but I always found her a fascinating personality. [...]
ElisabethFuture Googlers, email me for Elisabeth Reich’s email, or she can leave it in the comments if she wishes.