Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lea's Children: Part 2

To write about Malcolm and the school is to look into the heart of darkness. But Malcolm by no means stands there alone. With him stand his mother, his family, her close companions and confidants; all who from early on knew the disturbances that Malcolm harboured; all who entrusted their children to him despite misgivings; all who directly or indirectly supported the school despite growing evidence of the pathology at its core; all who did not speak in an effective manner against what was happening; in sum, all of us who were a part of what Grant calls "the community" from the mid-1960s to those terrible days in the mid-1980s when the extent of Malcolm's abuse of his charges was laid bare. In this space we all stand accused though the degrees of our responsibility lie upon a wide spectrum. Regardless of our personal location along that spectrum, it is a painful but necessary exercise to stand there along with Malcolm. The alternative is to trust to the divisions that our society provides to protect us from positions of shame. We have categories of criminality and insanity that give us neat divides between Us and Them. Rather than leaving Malcolm alone in the shadow of evil, in all honesty we must look upon him as a fellow human and try to understand why he took and how he was allowed to take the path that he followed within Therafields.

When Malcolm came back to Toronto with his wife, Judy, late in 1968, only a visit was planned. They were en route to Manitoba. He had completed his bachelor's degree at Queens University, his master's in Windsor, and he was enrolled in the PhD program at Penn State. When they arrived here, however, Malcolm seemed to be experiencing a kind of break-down. Judy, meeting his family for the first time was very taken with Lea and Robbie. She pressured Malcolm to remain and to receive therapy. Malcolm worked for a while with Tom O and Judy with Lea. Lea purchased 63 Admiral, gave Malcolm and Judy the third floor apartment and induced some of the Hypno I people to move in as well. She dearly hoped that her son could be helped in ways that would solve some of his troubles and diminish his estrangement from the rest of the family.

Lea would speak in groups sometimes about the early life of the family during the war when they lived in Yorkshire. Because Harry could not find sufficient work, she took a job, leaving Malcolm as an infant with one or more local women. She worried about damage this might have done to him and speculated about the possibility that he had been sexually molested at some time in that period. She spoke also about the way that Harry would take up each child in turn as the centre of his life, only to abandon him or her when the next came along. Moreover, she said, Harry would make complaints about her to the children, turning them against her. Of the three children Malcolm would have been the most subject to the difficulties experienced by and between Lea and Harry after the war and during the transition to their new life in Canada.

Malcolm was a socially awkward child. He was brighter than most kids, his interests were different, and he was not a handsome boy. At school he never really belonged and he had a terrible time. Only at university did he begin to feel respected and understood. Within the family he had taken the role of supporting his father, believing that his father's life had been ruined by the move to Canada. This estranged him from the others who, as their parents' marriage deteriorated, had less respect for their father. Malcolm nursed resentment and outright contempt for Josie and Lea. There was another component of the family experience which was spoken of at the famous Bigwin marathon over a year before he and Judy came to Toronto. Malcolm had evidently abused both Josie and Rob when they were younger. Whatever the details or substance of this report, they were known to all present and they were not introduced as a concern years later when Malcolm's take-over of the school became a fait accompli.

Soon after his arrival in Toronto Malcolm became a presence on the tiny strip of Admiral Rd close to 63. He and Judy got jobs but his lasted only a couple of weeks. He had a great deal of trouble getting along with others in any work situation. His arrogance and contempt easily came to the surface making co-workers uneasy and angry. After this attempt I don't know if Malcolm held any actual jobs before his involvement in the education of the children around 1973-4. His relationship with Judy was unravelling and he was attracted to the young women at 55 and 59, having affairs with a few. It can be said that at this point Malcolm was rather attractive, clever, somewhat charismatic like his mother when he so chose, and, charming and funny under the right conditions. Undoubtedly the women drawn to him responded to these inducements though at the same time they were aware of his mother and his wife in the background. Here is an early example of the latitude given to Malcolm though allowed to no other. Another married man trolling for the affections and passions of a series of immature women would be confronted and curtailed. Tom, his therapist, whose own marriage to Josie was coming apart, seemed amused by Malcolm's behaviour. "Maybe he's got it right," said Tom.

Malcolm attended the family group for a time, where Lea would confront him and Josie about equally. Malcolm considered some of the things happening in Therafields at that period to be misdirected. He was against the development of an entrenched community. He thought that the position Rob had been given by his mother was ruining him. He wanted Rob to leave home, to go away to university. He took Lea on over these issues and received abuse from her and others as a result. Though Lea would confront Malcolm in the family groups she would support him in public. Other people could not successfully confront him as he simply would not take it. He would mount a serious defense to any attempt and as Lea would not support the confrontation, it inevitably would fall flat. Over time if people spoke to Lea about him she would ask why they were telling her their complaints. Did they not know that he was her son! Throughout she was in a constant state of guilt and worry about him. As she seemed unable to influence him herself, she engaged ML to be his periodic counsellor, a listener though never sought as a therapist.

Malcolm was never part of a standard, house, or learning group where people could collectively address him about concerns. As his involvement in the school developed, Malcolm gradually asserted his position as sole decision-maker. When the school was located at 59 Admiral Rd, Lea devised an elaborate scheme to surround it with a milieu of her most trusted young learners, people she could count on to support his work with the children. In the event, however, Malcolm refused to work co-operatively with them, seeming to deliberately work at antagonizing one and all. He managed to render the proffered assistance ineffective. As Lea's health declined and she was less present, her awareness of his activities also diminished. Her caretakers eventually protected her from knowledge of his state, knowing the pain and worry that it would evoke. After moving into 59 Malcolm dropped any pretence of co-operation with the children's parents or with any Therafields associates. Over the next years he began to live in a world peopled solely by the children over whom he developed a profound control. Freed of the society and the constraints of adults, I think that Malcolm sank deeper into a category of mental illness that had been taking him over for some time. It was characterized by irascibility, depression, megalomania, and, obsessive-compulsive and controlling features. These features were acted out in multiple ways with the children and with any adults coming into his sphere. Through the various agencies or passivity of many, Malcolm now had a free hand in a darkening world which contained children of the community.

In the next blogs I will write about the development of the school and what it became over the ensuing years.


  1. Malcolm, the Master Manipulator and sociopath. He had no need for the norms that most of us understand since he was the architect of "true norms" and "more-perfect social processes" which we lesser beings were incapable of even understanding, much less appreciating.

    "Rather than leaving Malcolm alone in the shadow of evil, in all honesty we must look upon him as a fellow human and try to understand why he took and how he was allowed to take the path that he followed within Therafields."

    I don't know that I can agree with your analysis that precedes this statement, but I can look upon him as a fellow human being whose madness overtook him. We allowed him to take the path that he followed within Therafields.

    We, all of us, starting with Lea herself and including the therapists and learners, allowed this to happen. We turned deaf ears to those who questioned what was happening and ignored those who took desperate actions to save their kids. We participated in family groups were we were reassured that everything was alright even as the therapists leading the group were getting their kids to hell away from Malcolm.

    Like so many things, dissent was suffocated under the blanket of guilt and recrimination that awaited those who were so wrapped up in their own neurosis that they could not see the damage they were doing by even questioning the actions of Malcolm Hindley-Smith.

    Yeah, we were all complicit.

    We so wanted to be part of the wonder of Lea Hindley-Smith's Therafields vision; to be part of this "incredible journey"; and to not be singled out as troublemakers and doubters and further make the lives of our children in the school more unpleasant. We all bloody well went along with it.

  2. Many of us wanted to believe that the Therafields' School was a great opportunity for the children, but a statement to the effect that "parents were harmful for children and he (Malcolm) was the only one who understood how to care for children, should have made us speak out. I remember reading a similiar statement by Malcolm in the Therafield newsletter and having it said directly to me by Malcolm.I was shocked when I read in the papers about Malcolm molesting two of the young girls at the school. I couldn't believe it. Though the little time I spent with Malcom I would found usually comfortable, but...

    Yes, I agree, we were all complicit.

  3. Having just seen Spotlight - "It takes a village to abuse a child" Brenda you say later that you had inklings of what was going you. You, and other adults, did nothing. I often wonder how the adults of this community live with the consequences of all the broken families & victimized children

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  5. Siobhan, the "inklings" that I had came mainly from conversations in the seminar "parents' group" held at Josie's house about 1977-80. The sense that emerged from statements made was that Malcolm had asserted total control over the school and that the parents were uneasy with him and with the directions he seemed to be taking. Pressure was placed on me to enroll my daughter Elizabeth in the school. I opted instead to move to Capricorn with Maurice, Elizabeth, and Catherine in 1991 shortly after the latter was born. I had certainly no idea of Malcolm's sexual behaviour with the girls in his charge. I was uncomfortable with him and did not want my children in his care. I cannot at the same time exonerate myself of a collective responsibility that those of us in the seminar had for not openly challenging Malcolm's position.