Tribute to Wendy Karr

A true representation of meditation in action, Wendy was a kind, compassionate and inspiring woman with a graceful strength.


3 February 2015

Wendy Karr passed away on December 28, 2014 after a long illness. She was an extraordinary woman: a great teacher, artist, mother, wife. She demonstrated tremendous steadiness and courage throughout her long and difficult illness. All who knew her will miss her loving and gentle presence and friendship. Her funeral—a Sadhana of Mahamudra fire offering—took place at the Halifax Shambhala Centre on December 30. The packed shrine room reverberated with devotion, joy and sadness.

Wendy was born in Tonbridge Wells, England on April 20, 1941 to Bill and Dorothy Hammond. She left England at age 20 to explore the world. Her curiosity and spirit of adventure led her to a wide range of experiences: to Israel, where she worked with children on a kibbutz; on an epic solo bus trip across the United States in the late ’60s; teaching children in Paris and Madrid. In Paris, she began meditating with a Zen group, and visited Kagyu Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland around that time.

In 1971, her travels led her to San Francisco, where she practiced at Suzuki Roshi’s San Francisco Zen Center. In 1972, she attended the first program taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center. A connection with Trungpa Rinpoche blossomed there, and continued for the rest of her life.

A true representation of meditation in action, Wendy was a kind, compassionate and inspiring woman with a graceful strength. She was a dedicated Montessori teacher who adored children, and believed in giving them the space and support they need to grow confidently into themselves. She was also a skillful practitioner and senior teacher of the Japanese art of ikebana, and she inspired devotion in her flower arranging students. Her flower name, Shouki Sensei, means “auspicious heart.”

She is survived by her loving family: husband Andy, sons Alden and Douglas, daughters-in-law Missy and Aimee, and grandson Travis.

A scholarship fund in her name has been established, and will enable deserving children to attend Maple Tree Montessori, where she happily taught for many years: Wendy Karr Memorial Montessori Scholarship Fund -Missy Chimovitz

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From members of Kalapa Ikebana

Wendy’s ikebana path was a big part of her life. Wendy studied ikebana for four years in Paris, and continued in Halifax in 1989 with Karen Roper for four years, and then studied for more than 20 years with our teacher, Watanabe Sensei, of Montreal who would come to Halifax to teach once a year.

Watanabe Sensei was accustomed to giving frequently scheduled classes for her students in Montreal and Ottawa. She referred to her Halifax group as an experiment since she was unsure whether a group of students could remain together and develop when they only saw their teacher once or twice a year. But as Watanabe Sensei said at her workshop in Halifax this past June, that Wendy was able to attend, she was happy with the way we had developed over the years. And during this workshop, she awarded Wendy the highest teaching level that she could give.

Wendy was the head of the Ikebana group in Halifax for 21 years, and it was her commitment to Kalapa ikebana that made it happen. She made the experiment work.

In addition to facilitating the group and leading flower arranging every Friday at the Shambhala Centre, Wendy hosted Watanabe Sensei at her home year after year when Sensei would come to teach, she organized flowers for special events, assemblies, visiting teachers and for The Kalapa Court. For the Sakyong’s event, Joining Heaven and Earth, Wendy and the group, along with Watanabe Sensei, created a massive 8 x 20 foot installation. For these arrangements and the workshops, beyond ordering and buying flowers, expeditions into the country are required to find large numbers of appropriate wild branches — thus we were given the nickname the Kalapa Clearcutters.

In addition to giving two or more public workshops every year in Halifax, Wendy also taught ikebana in many other centres, and to children at the Halifax Shambhala School and Montessori school.

In recognition of her great contribution to contemplative arts in Shambhala, this past year Sakyong Mipham appointed her “Master Kalapa Ikebana Instructor”, and with this appointment, she was also awarded the title “Artist to the Kalapa Court.”

Wendy’s arrangements were a perfect mirror of her nature, unpretentious, graceful and strong. When making an arrangement, she would place the three main branches very deliberately, slower than anyone else. But because she saw so clearly, the branches would look as if they had grown from the same root, completely alive. We often work in pairs or groups, and she was always fun to work with, generous and perceptive.

Wendy was a steadfast example of flower heart. Her presence, care and lack of speediness exemplified Dharma Art. Our Sensei taught us that flowers are about people. Wendy’s decorum, flowers and friendship beautified our world.

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From June Crow

Wendy’s flower name, Shouki, is translated as Auspicious or Fortunate Heart or Spirit. It was OUR good fortune to have known Wendy. She was an amazing ikebana person, her arrangements expressed elegant simplicity with beautiful form, line and colour. Her arrangements were a reflection of her state of being.

She taught me a lot about ikebana , not only her arrangements but her presence. She never showed any kind of speed but always very carefully placed the branches and flowers into the vase. She took her time with her arrangements as she did with people, always open and willing to be there whether in friendship or in a challenging situation. She was never intimidated and could always hold her seat.

She was a gracious hostess, knowing how to put people at ease. When we would visit Wendy at her home, even in her illness she would insist on making tea for everyone.

After her last chemotherapy she wrote to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and asked for advice saying that “the prospect of death is very scary” and he responded saying this: “Think of Trungpa Rinpoche and merging with him again and again, habituate yourself with that. Keep it simple” … and I think that is what she did.

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From Jane Lindsay

When we all lived in Paris in the ’80’s, we had the extraordinary good fortune to discover Andy and Wendy’s beautiful apartment, the seat of the Paris Dharma Study Group. We were welcomed open-heartedly and warmly over that decade by Andy and Wendy every Tuesday evening, and once a month for nyinthuns (and lovely animated lunches in the big kitchen). With amazing generosity and patience Andy and Wendy unfolded the Vidyadhara’s world for us—changing our lives: such gratitude to them both.

It is not easy to evoke Wendy’s deep loveliness. Perhaps one of her most striking qualities was that, in the midst of Paris’s busy-ness, she was unhurried. In fact profoundly still like a windless lake. Receiving us, she was gently solicitous; attentive and caring about the details of our lives. She softly radiated equanimity and devotion: the house was always impeccable and inviting, Alden and Douglas funny, and herself gently smiling. All stresses seemed to dissolve upon entering the apartment; within the tranquil, vivid spaciousness all our questions and confusions were welcomed.

Wendy’s gracious presence was a constant source of inspiration. Her unchanging cheerfulness and ever-present compassion were a living embodiment of the teachings: a revelation to us Parisians caught up in passionate intellectual argument, ever in pursuit of “l’amour”. Wendy seemed to find all this quietly funny. There was such a sweet quality to her stillness.

In mid-decade, after returning from seminary, we used to meet up to do prostrations together. This was the occasion for a cup of tea and laughter; she had a wonderful, dry, very English sense of humour, full of amusing observations.

Wendy embodied authentic goodness and genuine loving kindness in the most unassuming manner.

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From Glenna Olmsted

In remembering precious time together- those last few days with Wendy- it is hard to imagine someone more elegant, more dignified and more radiant than she-facing her last days on earth. She was ever kind, ever gracious, and gentle even when she was obviously uncomfortable and in pain. I noticed that quality never waivered even with a steady stream of friends and caregivers coming and going.

We practiced together. We napped together. I broke down with emotion, she comforted me. We talked about the most memorable and important days of her life. Those honest thoughts and questions we explored together. I did most of the talking, but she answered and contributed directly with such a clear mind; obviously a trained and well practiced mind.

It was not all serious. We reminisced about all of our fun times together at Château Karr. We caught up on how our loved ones were; Ikebana; tea cozies, tea and warming the pot; photography and all the other creative things that we shared as friends of many lifetimes.

And so I have no doubt that through those things she taught me and those things we shared, that she will be with me whenever I gather branches, or arrange flowers or see something of beauty that calls to be photographed, or when I add another “spoon of tea for the pot”. She will be with me in friendship, my dharma sister; now, then, and again.

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From Linda V. Lewis

Poem for Wendy

How many flower offerings to the shrine did she make—

How many teachings of appearance-emptiness did each one manifest—

Heaven, earth, and human were united in harmony in each one.

Wendy, so British a master of Japanese Ikebana, often made me think of our mutual root guru wearing a kilt!

Always kind and precise as a mother, schoolteacher, and as a dear friend–now I must let go.

But just as there is no point in clinging to the blossoms on an azalea or jasmine branch, still the appreciation, like the sweet scent, remains.

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