I remember asking my parents when I was 7 or 8 whether I had any great-grandparents and being told that yes I did have a great grandfather but he was in America. I never really questioned why, when we lived in the US a number of times when I was a child, it was that I had never met him and why he did not seem to feature in our lives.
Harry Edmonds lived until he was 96 and died in 1979 when I was 10. His middle daughter Margaret (Markie or Peggy) Edmonds was my grandmother. She and her elder sister Dot, both married Englishmen which is why I am English. Sadly for me my grandmother fell out with Harry after the death of his first wife, her mother, Florence from cancer in 1933. They never really reconciled and so it was that any contact was discouraged.
Around 2007/8 I found myself at a personal cross roads with a number of life changes happening and must have been going through things at my house and I found a file containing information about Harry and his story, along with some family photos and other documents. Although I can remember my grandmother telling me a bit about the story, it was a vague memory and only when I returned to the story as an adult was I struck by how remarkable it was and I was drawn to find out more.
I reached out to I-House NYC and was connected to John Wells. Through John, I connected with Harry’s granddaughter Sandy Edmonds, daughter of Harry’s son Hal and I decided to attend the 2009 event at the House in celebration of the 100 years of Harry meeting the Chinese student on the steps of Low Memorial Library. It was my first visit to the House and was a truly I-House event with wonderful music and an opportunity to meet people who had lived at the House.
Harry then faded back into the background but was always there, until in the autumn of 2017 I found a copy of the Oral Memoirs that Berkeley University had recorded with him on Amazon and ordered it. For some reason I was drawn to the pages about Harry’s last tour and wondered if I could re-create it.
During a visit to NYC in November 2017, I met with Calvin Sims and his team and discussed my idea. They were supportive but very clear that they were not resourced to take on a project like this so I went away to think about it.
One lesson that Harry story had re-inforced for me was that talking about things is not good enough, for something to happen you have to do something, so at the start of 2018, I decided to plan to leave my job in June and to re-create the tour as a self funded, personal pilgrimage, starting in January 2019, 53 years after Harry did.
Even without the tour, Harry inspired me and has enabled me to meet some wonderful people and feel the difference that having lived at I-House gives people. A huge thanks has to go out to all those who have supported and encouraged me. Particularly to Patricia Hamzahee and the trustees of FIHUK, Julie Pape and Emily Wakeling at I-House NYC, Denise Jorgens Director of I-House Chicago, Joy Iwasa and Angela Raunch at I-House Berkeley, Mr Ashiba at I-House Japan and all the wonderful I-House alumni who have already joined in.