After living with leukemia for five years, Celia West died on 25 May 2000. A celebration of her life was held on 28 May, at which many people spoke and MC Madeline McNamara read messages sent from around the world. The June 2000 issue of the Magdalena Aotearoa newsletter was dedicated to this wonderful woman, and following are extracts from Sally Rodwell’s editorial and some of the many tributes.
Although Celia knew she had a fatal illness — the diagnosis was made soon after her return to Aotearoa in 1995 — she was committed from the start to building Magdalena Aotearoa here. After Jill Greenhalgh’s visit in April ’97, it was in Celia’s living room looking out to clouds racing and wild waves breaking on the south coast, that we resolved to hold a grand Festival, and bring as many representatives of the Magdalena as we possibly could to Aotearoa.
For the next two years, Celia’s radiant smile blessed this crazy enterprise. She was serenly confident. She had been part of the Magdalena Project since it was founded in Cardiff in 1986. She had a strong faith in this network of women, and she never allowed us to doubt.
Celia was, and is, our Kaitiaki, our advisor and spiritual guide throughout the Trust’s work. Never did an actress so light up a meeting, grace agendas and budgets and annual reports with such a dazzling smile. During the turbulent months of the Festival planning, Celia’s karakia, visualisations, jokes, advice, wisdom and brilliant gossip inspired the little office.
During times when she was ill or receiving treatment, she would host meetings in the cancer ward. Here, plans for the Festival Art Exhibition were made. Her collaboration with Liana Leiataua gave the Festival the exuberant “Kaleidoscope” in Shed 11.
Even in recent weeks, as her strength drained, Celia insisted on contributing to the planning of the “Making Waves” workshop series. I raced to the Oncology Department with the draft programme for the Political Theatre workshop, where Celia, very thin now, was still giving time to all who visited. She patted the paper and said she would read it soon and advise. We sense, all of us, that our work as Magdalena Aotearoa has from the start been blessed by Celia.
Last week, the rituals were performed. Her family and friends gathered and sang and told stories and confessed with both tears and laughter. Her presence filled the rooms. She rode to her funeral in a sky blue coffin painted with a blazing red heart and gold footprints. Her spirit already soaring over Cape Reinga, she lay tranquil in a silver dress, smiling through the garlands of shells and flowers. Magic theatre. Paul (her husband) said Celia was the director.
As we remember Celia, and think of how much love she gave to this world, let us pray that we keep making our theatre work meaningful, strong, clear, warm, passionate, serious, colourful, funny, outspoken and true.
Celia West equals Goddess — always has, always will — to me. The first time I met her she fascinated me. In becoming her friend she challenged me and then she listened. When working on performances together, as actors, she challenged me even more, and wouldn’t listen … she would just show me, make me. In becoming a central woman within the Magdalena Project she supported and challenged and listened so deeply when I was not coping … she gave me strength … I never knew how she did that. And now I know she’s watching over the Magdalena – I just know … she is the Albatross, of some kind of freedom, that I had a vision of whilst the Project here in Wales was having its funding axed so violently, at the same moment, literally, as Magdalena Aotearoa was exploding so, so gloriously. She is the Albatross Goddess — flying — challenging — listening and watching in that magic way that silently and invisibly tells us that we will not fail.
Jill Greenhalgh, Wales
One of my first meetings with Celia was on the Winter Solstice two years ago, in the dark at Princess Bay. There were wild women in masks and robes, drumming, singing and weeping. It was windy, the sea was crashing, and there was a fire. Beyond the flames was an outline, the trace of a giant insect which slowly lifted its antenna, great long feelers probing the air, swaying with the rhythms. This was Celia’s great Weta dance. I want to thank Celia for sharing with me, and with all of us, her beautiful life and magnificent death.
Celia became an integral part of our unit. She spent many hours, using her counselling skills, in helping other patients. She intuitively knew who needed her on a given day. From all those she helped, those still alive and those not, I say “Thank You” to a gracious and generous lady.
I met Celia a year ago and instantly we both knew we wanted to be together now and forever. We were married six months to the day we met. It was a rich, full and complete relationship and will continue to be as there is no sense of separation now she has left her beautiful body. She is but a moment away. Celia died as she lived, in great style. She was aware and communicating to the last breath, holding my and her sister Sue’s hands. Celia my love, you are my princess and my queen, my playmate, and my beautiful darling wife. I love you always.