HUNTSVILLE – With countless stamps on her passport, Lesley Hastie is a woman of the world, but more importantly, also a deeply caring humanitarian.
Lesley Hastie is a stong advocate of human rights and is a member of Amnesty International. As an animal lover, she noted the trim on her coat is fake fir.
Photo by Mandi Hargrave
Born in Brighton, England, 50 miles south of London, she felt blessed to be an only child of parents Jack and Hazel Simpson.
It was within the walls of her home that she learned to have a great capacity for social empathy.
“My parents had experienced the Great Depression themselves and they knew how hard life could be,” said Hastie. “My father was a champion of people who needed champions. As a result of that he was asked to be a magistrate, a lay judge, which is pretty good for somebody who left school at 12.”
Hastie studied economics and statistics at the University of York and four years after graduating decided she wanted to live overseas. She moved to Canada 42 years ago after borrowing £100 pounds from a friend, and as fate would have it became roommates with her now husband, Ian.
“He was subletting his apartment and I was his tenant. Good fortune followed me there,” she said with a laugh. “We were married three years later.”
The two have been married for 39 years and have two sons, Jonathan and Miles.
They raised their boys in the 80s while living in Unionville. Hastie said it was a hard time for the family as she and Ian were heavily involved in the movement to reduce nuclear weapons.
Ian gave a number of lectures on the medical effects of nuclear war.
“It was very draining to try and envision your world with no people, no life,” she said. “Ian worked so hard.”
In 1985 he and other members of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
“It was a wonderful moment and we thought the world was going to be a safer place after (leader of the Soviet Communist Party Mikhail) Gorbachev and (former US president Ronald) Reagan started to meet and reduce the number of nuclear weapons,” she said. “So there were some encouraging signs.”
Then in 1989 Hastie decided the family needed a bit of a change.
“So I persuaded everybody we should go to Saudi Arabia,” she said, and the family sold the majority of their belongings. “We got on a plane with 20 odd suitcases and it was a very different life out there for a year. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and the boys and I didn’t go back and Ian finished his contract just before the American invasion of Kuwait.”
At that time Ian was also being sought to setup emergency medicine as a program at the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital in Muscat, Oman.
“They were starting to train doctors and they needed somebody who could set up the program, hire more doctors and setup a training program for specialists in emergency medicine,” she said. “By the time we left 14 years later, he had done what he set out to do.”
During their time there, Hastie said she found her niche teaching economics at ABA, a private, non-profit premier international school, which teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) from primary grades and up.
“It’s the most wonderful program,” she said. “It’s a program where it encourages thinking, even among children. It doesn’t regard them as empty vessels to be filled but encourages them to think.”
Hastie taught economics to students in Grades 11 and 12.
“They were just so hardworking, respectful, lovely young people,” she said. “That was a wonderful experience … It was just a very wonderful culture. Two things that I missed there; there was no animal shelter and no public library. Apart from that it was pretty perfect.”
By 2005, Hastie had turned 60 and she felt it was time to return to Canada. The family made their cottage in Huntsville their new permanent residence. At the time they only knew two other families in the area.
“We knew we would have to start a new life here and join things and it has been a wonderful experience coming to Huntsville to live,” she said. “I mean apart from the beauty all around us, which is just magical, the people here have been so welcoming and we’ve made a lot of really good friends.”
The Hastie’s bought the land their home sits on in 1981 and through the years built a cottage on the property.
“We had tents – privacy tents, dining tents, guest tents. We camped here in the summers for five years and then the tents started to leak. It was a crossroads,” she laughed. “More tents or a cottage?”
When the family returned from Saudi Arabia in 2005 they lived in the cottage for a year before they turned it into their permanent home.
Being passionate about human rights, Hastie has been a long-time member of Amnesty International. It’s a non-profit, non-governmental organization with a focus on generating action to prevent and end serious human rights abuses and it demands justice for those whose rights have been violated.
“As far as I know we only have one shot at life on this earth and to think of somebody whose life is a life of misery, whose home is on the streets and this is the only life they have, I mean it doesn’t bare thinking about,” she said with a shaky voice.
Hastie said Amnesty does a lot of good work around the world and holds countries to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The local Muskoka group of Amnesty International members will be meeting this Friday, Nov. 23, for a movie night at Trinity United Church at 7 p.m. Hastie said all are welcome to attend and learn more about the group.
They’ll also be at the Huntsville Place Mall on Dec. 8 to commemorate international Human Rights day on Dec. 10.
“I think it’s important to see your cup as half full rather than half empty and to try and count your blessings,” said Hastie. “I mean for some people that’s hard … I think we’re finding out more and more now that poverty isn’t just about not having money. It leaves life-long scars, a lack of security. I came from such a secure background, that I think that’s one of the thing’s that’s given me wings. I think the person who has experienced poverty, they won’t have this sense of security and I think we’re now understanding it changes your genes and the next generation isn’t the same as a result of that poverty. It’s a fight or flight addition to a gene for people who’ve grown up in poverty, where family conflict is part of a way of life. You fight or you flee and the next generation also experiences that. Poverty alleviation should be top of our agenda in Canada.”
Thank you to Tamara de la Vega for recommending Hastie for Muskoka Mosaic. If you’d like to recommend someone to be profiled, contact Mandi Hargrave at 705-789-5541 Ext. 285 or email email@example.com