When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”1
A spiritual light burned in Sears practically from his birth on March 28, 1911. Starting in 1912, at 18 months old, he had dreams about a Holy Man—dreams which, he later discovered, began when that Holy Man, Abdu’l-Baha, visited Minnesota, where Sears grew up.2 Raised in the Catholic Church, Sears was full of questions about religion, and was supported in his investigations by his grandfather. His father, however, was bewildered as the boy voraciously studied the Bible and proclaimed, “Someday I’m going to go all over the world and tell people about God.” 3
Sears’s spiritual search, however, fell by the wayside when, in his twenties, he confronted severe hardships. The Great Depression inflicted dire poverty on his family. He married and had two sons, but soon became a widower. His younger son suffered from tuberculosis.
But Sears got a new lease on life when he met Marguerite Reimer, who introduced him to the Baha’i Faith—and helped him realize the identity of the Holy Man in his dreams. Their courtship and marriage were so exemplary that I recall learning the story years ago in a Baha’i preparation-for-marriage class. Here’s a glimpse, from Sears’ first memoir, God Loves Laughter—the scene of his proposal:
“I’m going to say something that may shock you,” I said.
Marguerite looked up at me with a tender smile. “Yes, dear,” she said. The years have taught me that this smile means: “You-poor-thing-I-thought-you’d-never-catch-up-with-me.”
“I’ve been offered a job in Salt Lake City. I don’t want to go away and leave you here in this wilderness of wolves, so as soon as I can save up enough money to pay for a wedding-ring, I’m going to ask you to marry me…. By the way…I happen to love you very much.”
There was a long silence. It was very humbling. Towards the end, it was appalling. Then Marguerite took something out of her purse and slipped it on to her finger. It was a simple but lovely ring.
“I bought one myself,” she said, “last week in Boston… By the way, I happen to love you very much, too.”
We wound up laughing and loving all at the same time, which has been pretty much the pattern of our lives. It makes an intoxicating mixture.4
After marrying in 1940, Sears assiduously investigated the Baha’i Faith. He found the Dawn-Breakers rousing, reading that hefty tome three times over; he would later record a version for children. In his investigations, he connected the advent of Baha’u’llah to prophecies about the Return of Christ. Convinced by the proofs he discovered—which would form the basis of his book Thief in the Night—he became a Baha’i.
Sears developed a successful career as a radio and television personality from the 1930s to the 1950s. His sportscasting won an Emmy in 1951.5 His children’s show, In the Park (1951–1953), was broadcast nationwide by CBS and featured on the famous Ed Sullivan Show. But Sears’s rising star as a TV celebrity did not distract him from his commitment to service. He set out to fulfill his childhood dream of traveling the world to tell people about God.
When Shoghi Effendi called for pioneers in 1953, Sears left his career to move to South Africa. His family lived on a farm near Johannesburg, attracting a thriving spiritual community, especially on baking day!6 Even as Apartheid gained ground, Sears worked to foster a vibrant intercultural community. Within a few years, he was elected to serve on the regional spiritual assembly of South and West Africa. About their teaching activities in Africa, Sears and Marguerite wrote,
Malaria, dysentery, infected toes, smashed fingers, influenza, cold, heat, hunger, discomfort. These are all campaign ribbons for each pioneer. There is no need to expatiate upon sufferings. These are the mortar with which the monument of victory is held erect and in place. One rapidly learns that what he thought were bare essentials of living, are really luxuries. What he thought were impossible conditions are really the bare essentials.7
In 1957, Sears was selected as a Hand of the Cause of God—the highest appointed station in the Baha’i Faith, responsible for supporting communities around the world—by Shoghi Effendi, whom he had met on pilgrimage several years earlier. Because of that position, Sears had a unique opportunity to serve during the six-year interim between Shoghi Effendi’s death and the election of the first Universal House of Justice. During that period, a group of Hands led the worldwide community; Sears served in this capacity from 1961 until 1963.
As a Hand of the Cause, Sears traveled widely, circling the globe twenty times. The scope of his activities included innumerable talks to Baha’is around the world, some of which were recorded. If you grew up in a Baha’i community, you may be familiar with one very special recording, his Happy Ayyam-i-Ha album, which has helped countless children celebrate the intercalary days.
One unique destination for Sears on his constant travels was Iran, which he visited in 1970.8 He made pilgrimage to the Baha’i Holy Places there—a trip that inspired his book The Prisoner and the Kings. After decades of constant movement, in 1985, Sears and his wife settled in Arizona, helping lay the groundwork for the Desert Rose Baha’i Institute.
Throughout his busy life, William Sears constantly wrote, producing a dozen books. Almost 30 years after his death, many of them are still in print—Release the Sun, Thief in the Night, God Loves Laughter, The Prisoner and the Kings, A Cry from the Heart, and The Wine of Astonishment. Some, like The Flame: The Story of Lua, are available online. My own first encounter with Sears was through his books. I recall reading his young adult books, In Grandfather’s Barn and Run to Glory!, and later his masterpieces, Thief In the Night and God Loves Laughter. As the Universal House of Justice wrote upon his death—on March 25, 1992—the “dynamic effects [of] his work endure through his many books and recordings,” and “generations to come will rejoice in [the] rich legacy left [to] them.”
- Retrieved from: https://thisibelieve.org/essay/16972/ [↩]
- Retrieved from http://bahaistories.blogspot.com/2014/08/bill-sears-first-glimpse-of-abdul-baha.html [↩]
- William Sears, God Loves Laughter, p. 41 [↩]
- William Sears, God Loves Laughter, George Ronald, 1960, pp.126–127 [↩]
- Retrieved from: books.google.com/books?id=GyT-CQAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA432#v=onepage&q=432&f=false [↩]
- Retrieved from: bahaichronicles.org/william-sears-neda-typing-direct-from-lights-of-fortitude/ [↩]
- William and Marguerite Sears, “Black Sunlight,” p. 931, https://bahai-library.com/pdf/bw/bahai_world_volume_12.pdf [↩]
- Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sears_(Bahá%27%C3%AD)#Under_the_Universal_House_of_Justice [↩]