In the mid 1950s, her message of inner and outer peace did not find as great a reception as it did by the 1960s and 1970s, when working for peace and especially spiritual harmony, was becoming more popular. "When I started out, people accepted war as a necessary part of life. Now, people are looking for alternatives. Now people are looking inward," she said. As the years wore on, she was in greater and greater demand as a speaker, often having to book herself a year in advance. She spent fewer nights along the roadside, and began accepting more rides to keep her engagements, always being returned to the spot she had left off walking.
The last spot for Peace Pilgrim was Knox, Indiana. The day before she had given her last speech in Valpraiso, Indiana. In order to make the next scheduled meeting, she had to be driven. She was on her way, just outside Knox in the afternoon of July 7, 1981, when an on-coming car crossed the median strip and struck the car she was riding in head on. She died soon after impact, and her driver died four hours later. With that car collision, she finally went to what she called her "glorious transition" to a "freer life."
Mildred Lisette Norman Ryder was cremated, and on July 18, 1981, the date of what would have been her 73rd birthday, her ashes were interred in the Norman family cemetery plot in Galloway Township, NJ, not far from Egg Harbor City where she was born. Her ashes were buried in the gravesite of her most influential aunt, Lisette Norman, after whom she was named.
Peace Pilgrim's Legacy
Her peace legacy was large and compelling especially when measured by her own principles:
We must walk according to the highest light we have, encountering lovingly those who are out of harmony, and trying to inspire them to a better way. Whenever you bring harmony into any unpeaceful situation, you contribute to the cause of peace. When you do something for world peace, peace among groups, peace among individuals, or your own inner peace, you improve the total peace picture. No action is fruitless.
There is within the hearts of people deep desire for peace on earth, and they would speak for peace if they were not bound by apathy, by ignorance, by fear. It is the job of peacemakers to inspire them from their apathy, to dispel their ignorance with truth, to allay their fear with faith that God's laws work - and work for good....My simple peace message is adequate - really just the message that the way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things...
Beyond those lives that she touched directly during her life, what was her legacy? 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of her first walk across America. What can we point to as her "achievements"? Did she plant the seeds for fundamental change, or did many of those seeds fall on fallow ground? Like many powerful individuals whose message - if followed - is world changing, qualitative results are most potent but difficult to gage, while quantitative results are more concrete and limited as a true measurement.
Perhaps the greatest testament to her influence is the fact that the bulk of her teachings and writings have been published and distributed posthumously, and with it, the recognition that her life and teachings were of enduring value. Otherwise, interest in her would not have grown exponentially each year, as it has, without money, marketing or organization. Twenty years after her death, she has become better known and sought after than when she was alive. More remarkable, her fame has been achieved exclusively through word of mouth, and the dedication of a few friends.
Source: Peace Pilgrim's story was written by Marta Daniels, and is reprinted here by permission of the author. It is adapted from Daniels' extended biography of Mildred Norman Ryder (Peace Pilgrim), first published in short form in Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. V, Harvard University Press, 2005. The full story ("Peace Pilgrim: Spiritual Teacher, Non Violent Advocate, Peace Prophet") can be found on the Peace Pilgrim web site at: http://www.peacepilgrim.com/htmfiles/mdppbio.htm Reprint of this story in part or whole must have the permission of the author. Contact the author through the Voices website.