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The General of the poor and the Iron Lady of industry

  • 01 April 2015

On 20 March, General Eva Evelyn Burrows AC, the 85 year old Australian retired world leader of the Salvation Army, was ‘promoted to glory’ (Salvo-speak for having left this life). As I will suggest, her life of service paralleled and contrasted markedly with another prominent female leader, Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who died on 8 April 2013.

General Burrows was much loved and respected. She was a deep thinker, a gifted speaker and, rarer still, a big-picture strategist who was also an ‘implementer’. The second woman and second Australian to lead the Salvos’ international, this Christian feminist preached Christ and led a rear-guard action against poverty, unemployment and homelessness.

Burrows spent many retirement years at the Salvos’ digs at 69 Bourke Street, caring for unemployed, homeless, marginalised and sometimes mentally ill Melburnians. She’d sometimes front up at 3 a.m. to help distribute blankets and soup, and saw it as a privilege to wash the feet of homeless people at Eastertime, thus imitating Christ.

Eva’s corps officer – the equivalent to her parish priest was Major Brendan Nottle. He mentioned that the General annually opened her home to ‘Order 614’ – twentysomethings taking on a gap year program to reinforce the Salvos’ work with homeless Melburnians.

‘They’d sit there with Iced Vovos and orange cordial, and think they had this little grandmotherly figure worked out,’ Nottle recalls. ‘Then then they’d go into her office and see photos of the General standing with Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bob Hawke, Margaret Thatcher, etc. It blew their minds – all of a sudden they were exposed to this amazing woman.’

Speaking of that divisive diva Margaret Thatcher, I’ve always been intrigued by the connections between these two prominent women, and, indeed, the disconnect. Interviewing Burrows in 2009, I found she praised many leaders she’d met while in office, yet was respectfully critical of the Baroness.

‘Margaret Thatcher was a disappointment,’ the General said. ‘I felt she didn’t have a deep, true feeling for the poor. I invited her to come out on the soup run indirectly and said it wouldn’t be a media event, we’d go incognito, but the answer was no…well, I didn’t get an answer in a sense…

‘Mrs Thatcher always had about her a certain, almost aristocratic, style. You might even say arrogant style, which I would never want to copy. There was a formidability to her. She was not the