Jacob Holdt - my friends:

The Godfrey family - my saving angels

Without the Godfrey family my life would have been totally different today. I owe them almost everything - see below. Here is the son Adam seen from left, the parents Charles and Margaret, the daughter Kristen and the oldest son, Mark. See more about the family in my speech below at Charles' 98- year birthday.

The Godfrey family


My speech for Charles Godfrey's

98 year birthday, Sept. 26th 2015

I am a bit nervous since I have never made a speech for a 98-year birthday before ...
....and probably never will again :-)

I want to say a few words to you, Skip, because you are a true life saver. I do not just mean that you have saved your own life for almost a hundred years.
And I don’t refer to you as a doctor although I do think it is worth mentioning that you throughout your life used all your vacations away from the hospital and your private practice in Toronto to fly out to do free volunteer work as a doctor in many poor countries. And I don’t mean the work you carried out as president for CARE Canada.

No, I am standing here today to celebrate you for the four times you saved my life.

First time

The first time was when I invited your daughter, Kristin, to stay with me in my slummy backyard dwelling of a former funeral coffin store and pornographic store in Copenhagen. We still had some coffins with hard core porno magazines standing. As a result you in the winter of 1967 invited me to Tunisia where you were doing volunteer hospital work living right on top of the ruins of Cartago next to the presidential palace of Bourguiba, the only decent president they had until the Arab spring.

That trip also became an Arab spring for me, since I was right then going on trial for selling hashish – lost as I was as a young high school dropout hippie with no future. Meeting you and your wife there and seeing your devotion to humanity gave me new inspiration. For when I right after the trip was going to court facing a severe sentence, I decided to cut my hair and put on a nice business suit. Then I stood up in court declaring that I really felt so sorry for my past behavior, but that I had now managed to change my life around because I had just “seen the light” when I had a vision in the Arab desert. Well, I must have been very convincing, for to my surprise the judge set me free without even giving me a fine :-)

What my vision in the Sahara really was I have a hard time describing because my sight was certainly very much reduced by having your wonderful daughter sitting in front of me on the camels. And I can tell you that it was a very sexy experience to sit right behind Kristen .....rolling like this from side to side through the desert.
Nevertheless, I do remember being strongly affected by seeing all the poor sick and especially blind people all over, and having just experienced your devotion to those people in an Arab hospital reawakened a childhood dream in me of one day building a jungle hospital like the one Albert Schweitzer had. And that dream you helped me realize many years later by once again saving my life.


Second time

The next time was when your wife, Margaret, in 1969 came to Copenhagen to visit Kristin and me and decided to invite me to Canada. At that time, I had become completely radicalized by the Vietnam War and that was something Margaret really liked to see. I should have come over right away, but got deeper and deeper into my revolutionary struggle – increasingly with a new vision that the only way to save humanity was through a violent struggle. Therefore, I did not really have time to go to work on your farm.

Kristen had now gone home to Canada and wrote me letter after letter about coming soon, but I got deeper and deeper into something very, very close to terrorism. What made me suddenly decide to come over to Canada extremely fast was when I again faced trial – this time for having destroyed a bridge and some equipment of the American military during a joint NATO military exercise for which I had to pay a huge sum of money for the damages. By fleeing it all, I literally became a political refugee from my own country. So thank you, Charlie, for taking a terrorist under your wings for a while ....and in that way again saving my life.

When I fled Denmark it was with the idea to only briefly recuperate on your farm in Canada before going to Guatemala to join the guerrilla movement there. You will recall how I was taking Spanish courses up in my little cabin on the farm, but meeting your loving family started to change my life around once again. I really enjoyed for the first time in life being a farm hand – especially in these beautiful surroundings up here. I did not right away give up my revolutionary ideal and thus named all the 12 red cows, I had to take of, Lenin, Marx, Che, Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel etc. Some neighboring farmers probably thought I was crazy when I ran around on their land shouting “Trotsky, Trotsky, come home” whenever they ran away from the farm :-)

It was not very hard work. Except for the weekends, which I hated. For that was when you got home from Toronto and commanded the whole family to do hard work in the fields – workaholic as you were then, and still are. What made the hard work a bit pleasant after all was when you put up big loud speakers outside playing Beethoven while we were spreading manure and building fences.

The only hard work I remember was when you wanted to put water into the barn and wanted to buy a trench digger to dig the 5 feet deep trench all the 400 meters from the house down to the barn. I came from a country where we did not have so much farm machinery at the time and thought it was a crazy idea to buy an expensive machine for such a little job. Therefore, I offered that I would dig that trench in only one week. I must confess that I had no idea how many rocks there were in the ground and how deep I had to dig, so this is probably the hardest job I have done in my life. Nevertheless, I wanted to win the bet that I could do it in one week – and I did it.

Recalling that you paid me only 200 Canadian dollars a month, you can see how many thousands of dollars you saved by not buying that expensive trench digger. Instead you had the job done for lousy 50 dollars by your cheap Danish labor. :-)

However, I felt more than rewarded when from now on you and Margaret always introduced me to your guests on the farm or friends such as Prime Minister Trudeau as “the fastest trench digger in Canada.”

What you did not understand at that time was that I had other subversive ideas with that trench. For I was actually training to build trenches for the guerrilla warfare I wanted to join in Guatemala afterwards. And what you didn’t see while watching my nice cover up as an innocent farm worker in the daytime was all the subversive activities I carried out at night.
For every night, I was sitting in the kerosene light in my little cabin decorated with posters of Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara writing my revolutionary pamphlets and tons of letters to friends and family. How crazy I was I just want to show you here. Night after night, I was by hand writing producing such a huge stack of pages, which I afterwards typed with one finger on 150 stencils – using correction whitener all the time I made mistakes. Afterwards on my days off I took this stack of stencils  to the office of the Trotskyites in Toronto and used their printing machines to print out my first book – even my first picture book, as you can see here in “A Youth rebels confessions – with important notes about how to change the world”. I think I printed at least a hundred copies of this book – far wordier than my later far more well-known book American Pictures – and then mailed them to friends all over the place. Many of my friends still have them laying around, but they have promised never to show them to anybody. For today, I am not very proud of seeing my fanaticism in that period.

Third time

And the reason is that you in the meantime saved my life for the third time. For as you know I had long, long talks with Margaret that year where we often spend half the day sitting in the kitchen talking. Margaret had a deep respect for my revolutionary visions since she had herself in her youth been a Communist. However, she had changed and come to realize that there were better and more democratic ways to change the world. And with her wise and reasonable thinking she ended up having more influence on me than I first would have thought. Today when I myself work on de-radicalizing young radicals I can see how important it was that her clever advice and warnings to me came from a former insider in a very caring and loving way. If a reactionary had told me the same things I would not have listened. And also that her thinking had time to sink in on a quiet farm with plenty of time for reflection.

However, I was still very hard headed and when I left the farm after Christmas 1970 I was on my way down to Guatemala. Yet all the time I was letting myself being detracted from my goal by hearing Margaret’s inner voice and instead joining various more peaceful black struggles such as the Black Panthers on my way. Yet, in the summer of 1972, I made a decisive attempt to hitchhike to Guatemala with a Black Panther friend. We were the Syrian fighters of that time. He soon gave up because nobody would pick up such an angry black man, but I made it alone all the way to the mountains of Guatemala and tried to find the guerrillas.

It was a crazy idea since I did not speak Spanish and I had been thrown out of the army two years before for refusing to shoot a gun. I did not find the guerrillas, for when I stood there in the jungle I heard Margaret’s voice inside me stronger than ever. I have no doubt today, Skip, that it was either your wife or God himself who kept me away from joining that bloody struggle which has never really ended in Guatemala and would no doubt have killed me in the end. Either way, God manifested himself in the shape of Margaret as my saving angel. I returned to America and slowly changed into a believer of non-violence and through non-violent communication ended up instead making American Pictures.

One reason I could get back into America and continue traveling there was the 1100 Canadian dollars I had earned and could show the American immigration I had on a Canadian bankbook when I had to go up here every 3 months to get a new visa. I forgot to bring that old dear bank book with me today. I could never use those 1100 dollars and therefore traveled for 5 years in the USA for no money at all. Not until the end did I use the money to buy a boat ticket home to Denmark for me and the American wife I brought with me home. So also in that way did you enabled me to make American Pictures by helping me to stay as a poor vagabond in America for 5 years.

So why am I thanking you for all this, Skip, when it was your wife who saved my life? Well, the point here is the influence you had on Margaret. You met each other at a debate when you were young – you as a Christian and she as a Communist – and out of that engaging dialogue you later formed your family. Yet the dialogue continued in your marriage and slowly you manage to de-radicalize Margaret in the same way she as a result later could do it with me. Therefore, it all goes back to your Christian inspired peaceful vision of saving humanity, Skip.

And through the inspiration you gave me already in Tunisia you in that way also helped me later to realize my childhood dream of building a hospital in Africa. For some of the funds from American Pictures eventually went into a small jungle hospital which I helped finance for the anti-apartheid guerrilla movement in their Kwanzu Zul head quarters in Angola. Libertina Amathila who became free Namibia’s first minister of health was running the nursing school and small hospital in it.
As you can see here it saved human lives.

Fourth time

In that way, you also helped change my life once again. For after hitchhiking around Africa to see other projects I could support I soon gave up when I saw the racism of much of the development aid. I swore I would never have anything to do with development aid again.

However, as president for Care Canada you were 10 years later in 1991 coming to Copenhagen for a meeting with Care Denmark. Therefore, I walked into CARE’s office to find out which hotel you and Margaret were staying in so you could come to dinner with me and my wife.

Well, when CARE saw me they got the idea to send me to a new project in Bolivia to make a slideshow about it since I was now a fairly well known person. At first I said no, because I had often in my revolutionary days heard you talk about CARE and just imagined that it was some kind of emergency aid for the poor. That was nonsense for me at the time when I felt that only revolutionary change could end poverty effectively. However, now I saw how CARE’s way of working could create real long-range change without the racism involved.

Therefore, I can also thank you for my many years of involvement with CARE. In fact, in May this year I received Care’s humanitarian price for having worked as an ambassador for 25 years with no salary. I wish I could show you the statue I got with the price, but the statue was so heavy that I could not myself carry it home :-) Today we in CARE are doing a fantastic job saving people from the effects of climate destruction.

However, all of my life saving work I owe to your vision of saving human lives which you so early planted in me. Without you knowing it, you also saved my life in the process.

Thank you, my incredible hard working saving angel, Skip, and also here a great thank to Margaret whom I last saw in her coffin standing in there on the living room floor happily saying goodbye to the world after a rewarding life.

A toast to you, Skip, and all my saving angels in this wonderful family.   



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