December 1, 2002 - Scotland on Sunday : Mora Dickson dies - was Founder of Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO)

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 12 December 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: December 1, 2002 - Scotland on Sunday : Mora Dickson dies - was Founder of Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO)

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, December 01, 2002 - 2:08 pm: Edit Post

Mora Dickson dies - was Founder of Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO)

Read and comment on this story from Scotland on Sunday about Mora Dickson, the Scot who set up Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) one of the predecessor organizations to the Peace Corps. Dickson set up VSO in 1957 with her husband, Alec, after they were touched by the plight of people living in many of the world’s poorest communities. The couple travelled to every corner of the globe, touring projects, meeting volunteers and raising the profile of the organisation. VSO - which went on to become one of the largest organisations of its kind, sent 23,000 volunteers to work all over the globe. John F Kennedy was so impressed he summoned the Dicksons to Washington in 1961 to advise on the establishment of the Peace Corps. Read the story at:

Charity leader takes revenge from the grave*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Charity leader takes revenge from the grave


SHE founded a charity to help the world’s poor and then took revenge on her own creation from the grave.

Mora Dickson, the Scot who set up Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), cut the organisation out of her £2.5m will shortly before she died, it has emerged.

Dickson’s last act appears to have been a posthumous payback for a bitter power struggle within the VSO which cost her place in the organisation.

Dickson set up VSO with her husband, Alec, after they were touched by the plight of people living in many of the world’s poorest communities.

The couple travelled to every corner of the globe, touring projects, meeting volunteers and raising the profile of the organisation.

But their dream turned sour when a power struggle lost them the organisation they had nurtured. Four years after the VSO was born the team they built up staged a coup and Alec and his wife were thrown out.

VSO - which went on to become one of the largest organisations of its kind, sending 23,000 volunteers to work all over the globe - claimed Alec was disorganised and prone to mood swings. He was stronger on inspiration than administration, the committee said, and almost overnight he found he was no longer the director of the organisation.

Now it has emerged that despite attempts in later years to heal the rift, Mora never forgave the VSO committee for turning against her and her husband.

Dickson’s will, which has just been published, reveals that despite her legendary generosity she did not leave a penny of her fortune to the charity.

Last night, it emerged that the widow cut VSO out of her will just two years before she died in Edinburgh on December 17, last year.

Her nephew and one of the executors of her will, Iain Robertson, 50, said Dickson had bequeathed a substantial sum of her fortune to the charity in a will written in 1996. But she changed her mind, writing a new will in 1999 that cut out all charitable organisations, instead leaving the money and personal effects to friends and extended family across the globe.

‘Her generosity with time and money was quite extraordinary’
Robertson said: "I don’t know why she changed her mind. Maybe she felt she had done enough."

Born in Glasgow, the second of four children, Dickson met her future husband in London where had she moved to pursue a career as an artist.

Initially, she took an instant dislike to the impeccably dressed, arrogant man, who, in turn, thought she was an upstart.

However, despite the bad start, they fell in love and in 1951 - two years after they first met - they were married.

Then a journalist with a passion for do-gooding in the former colonies, Alec was later appointed an ambassador for the United Nations and Mora accompanied her husband on all of his official trips.

Their vision for VSO grew out of a disastrous trip to Iraq when Alec was the head of a UN delegation to Baghdad. He realised that what was needed was not bureaucrats touring the capital but volunteers able to speak the language and work at grassroots level.

In 1957, Alec resigned from the UN and VSO was born.

The couple drove through thick jungle, hiked over thickly-misted foothills and slept under mosquito nets as they toured different projects.

VSO differed from its predecessors by shrugging off colonial do-gooding for hard graft and youthful energy from volunteers who wanted to help without being patronising.

The first dozen 18-year-olds who were sent to Ghana, Nigeria and Sarawak became an army of volunteers reaching across the developing world and VSO went on to become one of Britain’s greatest exports.

John F Kennedy was so impressed he summoned the Dicksons to Washington in 1961 to advise on the establishment of the Peace Corps.

But despite the achievements, just four years later they were ousted.

The coup was a devastating blow for her husband, who did not leave his room in the couple’s London home for a week. Having recovered, the Dicksons went on to found Community Service Volunteers (CSV) in 1961, a home-based version of the charity.

Both from wealthy families, the couple invested their money in the stock market and property. But although they quietly amassed a small fortune they lived frugally, recalled Robertson.

"They never spent anything," he said. "Mora would buy her clothes from a catalogue; she hated shopping. But if you ever needed money there would be a cheque in the post before you knew it. Her generosity, with both her time and money, was quite extraordinary."

After the death of her husband in 1994 at the age of 80, Dickson returned to her roots in Scotland, moving to Edinburgh where she continued to paint and write.

She was made honorary vice-president of VSO 12 years before her death, in a belated move by the trustees to heal the rift.

Dickson, who has 43 grandnieces and nephews and an extended family across the world, never had children of her own.

A prolific author, she had 21 books published during her lifetime.

She also wrote of her travels and illustrated the stories with black and white scraper-board drawings which brought the couple’s adventures into relief.

When Dickson died, her niece Sue Robertson, was flooded with letters of condolence from all over the world.

She said: "The esteem and regard in which she was held all over the world was really quite overwhelming."

Last night, a spokeswoman from VSO said: "We are grateful for the support both she and Alex gave us when they were alive.

"They gave us something else which was worth far more than money."

More about Voluntary Services Overseas

Read more about Voluntary Services Overseas at:

Voluntary Service Overseas

VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers. We enable people aged 17-70 to share their skills and experience with local communities in the developing world. We passionately believe we can make a difference in tackling poverty by helping people to realise their potential.

Tackling disadvantage at grass roots
Our approach is not to send food or money. Instead, we are actively working for a more equitable world by sending people out to share their skills at the heart of communities where skills are needed most. We send men and women from a wide range of professions who want the chance to make a real difference in the fight against poverty.

Ours is a very individual 'people to people' approach to development. Our overriding goal is to help individuals learn from each other - and consequently benefit the communities and countries in which they live. But above all, we are realistic in our expectations. We purposefully harness our resources to long-term objectives and focus on sustainable development rather than the short-term relief of certain problems.
In fact, we are by far the largest independent volunteer-sending agency in the world. Since 1958, we have sent out more than 29,000 volunteers to work in Africa, Asia, the Pacific region and, more latterly, Eastern Europe in response to requests from our partners - overseas employers. At the moment we have around 2,000 people engaged on placements in these regions.
what is vso?

Learning is a two-way process
VSO is open to professional people from many different occupations. Of course, every volunteer shares the VSO aim to improve lives in the developing world, but everyone in their own particular way wants to gain something, whether personally or professionally, from the experience.

And they do. You only have to talk to returned volunteers. Many will enthuse how fascinating it was to explore a different culture at first hand. Others will point to the friendships they have made. But many will also tell you how their professional talents have been stretched, and how they have learnt new skills that will significantly enhance their career prospects on their return home. If ever it was true that 'you get out what you put in', VSO is proof positive.

VSO currently recruits volunteers of any nationality who are living in the EU, Canada and the United States. In addition we are currently running pilot programmes recruiting volunteers from Kenya and the Philippines. We have established offices in Canada and the Netherlands:

VSO Canada, 151 Slater Street, Suite 806,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5H3, Canada.
Stichting VSO Nederland, Hooghiemstraplein 142,
3514AZ, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

VSO isn't only about working overseas
Back at home thousands more people give their time to support the organisation. At the centre of this activity is a network of 70 Local Groups that stretches from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands. These groups are not only to VSO's support; they also link communities here with some of the poorest parts of the world. If you would like to know more about local groups email:

It costs VSO about £15,000 a year to recruit, train and equip a single volunteer. To continue to meet the growing demand for new volunteers, VSO requires the support of people in the developed world. Find out more about ways to contribute as an individual or as an organisation or company.

VSO, along with other development agencies, is committed to taking action in pursuit of a more equitable world. VSO volunteers are well placed to use their experience to inform people in the UK and to challenge misconceptions about developing countries, having lived and worked in communities overseas. To find out about how you can get involved with action on development issues, email our Global Education unit:

More about Mora Dickson

Read more about Mora Dickson at:

Mora Dickson

Mora Dickson (1918-) :
Click on image for larger picture

Mora Dickson is a more recent daughter of Moffat. Her claim to fame has been in setting up International Voluntary Service Overseas, the organisation that has made use of volunteers' time and skills in sustainable projects in the developing nations of the world. She was also a prolific writer and an artist

Mora Hope Robertson was born in Glasgow in 1917, her family moved to Moffat whilst Mora was still a babe in arms. Her most endearing book is 'Nannie - A Lifetime of Devotion', a moving account of her nanny, Joanna Marshall. It recounts the family life in Moffat during the 32 years before Mora married, and parts of the time thereafter up to the death of Joanna Marshall - 'Nannie HR' - following the death of her friend and employer, Mora's mother.

After being educated at boarding school, Mora studied at the Edinburgh School of Art. Her elder brother Robert entered the Colonial Service, which maybe triggered in Mora the thought of herself going farther in the world. She recorded candidly the all-too-human reactions of the people of Moffat to war and to evacuees, then to the arrival of Polish officers and the men of No. 2 Commando. Her studies had been interrupted by the Second World War, but it was an experience she built on by working in the Church of England Huts at Glencorse Barracks in Edinburgh and then in Orkney at Scapa Flow naval base. Mora was not satisfied with the way she was treated, so joined the YMCA where she exercised some authority and after D-Day was to go to France and Holland with the YMCA. The war's end saw her running a large YMCA canteen in Nijmegen on the Dutch border with Germany. With the end of the war she resumed her studies, this time at the Byam Shaw School in London, but returned regularly to Moffat and was married from there, the family moving to Edinburgh thereafter.

Alec Dickson met Mora and married her in 1951, the start of an unusual and very productive period. Together, they founded the Man o' War Training Centre in Nigeria, then in 1958 the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation, finally in 1962 the Community Service Volunteers. Mora Dickson travelled widely, exchanging experiences and ideas with governmental and voluntary agencies throughout the world. Her books underline visits to the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Iraq, Sarawak, Fiji and Australia.

Her work as a writer concerned her with individuals who contributed to human needs in the face of great difficulties. Three of her books are biographies of Mary Moffat of Kuruman, Margaret Cargill of Fiji (wife to the first missionary there) and the teacher Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster involved pupils in teaching younger children and so learning more themselves - an inspiration and pioneering spirit brought out by Mora Dickson. The book about Joanna Marshall is a well drawn series of glimpses of life in Moffat, as well as a tribute to the heart and character of a much-loved Nanny.

The books written by Mora Dickson were an interesting account of her wide travels. In her retirement, Mora Dickson returned to her love of art and to London, but Moffat remained in her heart and she is rightly one of its writers. The name of her younger brother Alistair Hope Robertson, a Fleet Air Arm pilot killed in 1942, is engraved amongst others on the War Memorial.
Books by Mora Dickson :

New Nigerians
Baghdad and Beyond
Israeli Interlude
A Season in Sarawak
Assignment in Asia
A World Elsewhere
Count Us In
A Chance to Serve
Longhouse in Sarawak
Beloved Partner
The Inseparable Grief
The Powerful Bond
The Aunts
Teacher Extraordinary
Nannie - A Lifetime of Devotion (Published 1988)

Click on a link below for more stories on PCOL

Top Stories and Discussion on PCOL
Dodd's Amended Bill passes in SenateElection 2002:  RPCVs run for office
Peace Corps Volunteers Safe in Ivory CoastA Profile of Gaddi Vasquez
Sargent Shriver and the Politics of Life911:  A Different America
USA Freedom Corps - "paved with good intentions"PCV hostage rescued from terrorists
GAO reports on Volunteer Safety and SecurityPeace Corps out of Russia?
Help the New Peace Corps Bill pass CongressUSA Freedom Cops TIPS Program

Top Stories and Discussion on PCOL
Senior Staff Appointments at Peace Corps HeadquartersFor the Peace Corps Fallen
Senator Dodd holds Hearings on New Peace Corps LegislationThe Debate over the Peace Corps Fund
Why the Peace Corps needs a Fourth GoalThe Peace Corps 40th plus one
The Case for Peace Corps IndependenceThe Controversy over Lariam
The Peace Corps and Homeland SecurityDirector Vasquez meets with RPCVs
RPCV Congressmen support Peace Corps' autonomyPeace Corps Expansion:  The Numbers Game?
When should the Peace Corps return to Afghanistan?Peace Corps Cartoons

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps History



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.