Gurdjieff International Review
Dorothy and George Phillpotts were members of the Gurdjieff Society of London. The Society produces a yearly publication entitled, Report of the Council to Members. These are their obituaries from that publication.
hen asked by her family whether, at ninety-one and recovering from a broken leg, Group meetings were too much for her, Dorothy replied, “They may as well have me while I’m alive.” It was a characteristic response: that she would work to the end and that she would pass on the teaching to others.
Dorothy was the youngest daughter of a family of five and from an early age had a questioning and independent mind. She has written of those days that she enjoyed a happy childhood and was consoled in any difficulties she might meet by “a natural kind of religion, practiced more or less in secret” and undisclosed to the adults in her life.
When it came to a career, she had both ambition and a confidence in her own ability and worth. Determined to enter journalism, she began as a typist in Fleet Street and gradually ascended the professional ladder to become an acknowledged journalist. Later, her interests in geography and photography led to her writing books on travel and camping under the pseudonyms of Hilary Chadnor and Kathleen Stanhope.
Her intellectual reach was extremely broad. She read widely in philosophy, religion and psychology, but it was not until she met the ideas of the Work that the submerged questions about life came to the surface and met with a response.
She was introduced to what was then called The System by her husband, George, who was associated professionally with J.G. Bennett and she attended the early lectures given by Ouspensky in Colet Gardens before the war.
Following the years at Coombe Springs with Bennett, when it was learnt that Gurdjieff was still alive and living in Paris, Dorothy made regular visits to the flat in rue des Colonels Reynard, on one occasion with her six-month-old daughter. There was a long reading from Beelzebub which Dorothy found difficult to understand, but the baby, Gurdjieff said, “understand everything.” Her feeling for this period of intense work was one of deep gratitude.
For many years she and George nurtured Groups in the West Country and Dorothy, strong-minded and independent as ever, was, even in her ninetieth year, still in control of other people’s faculties! She spent twenty-five years writing Discovering Gurdjieff, her account of the ideas in the context of her own life and it was finished shortly before she died but she did not see it published.
She was a remarkable woman and a telling expression of her life’s aim is in the last chapter of her book when she quotes Madame de Salzmann:
When a teacher like Mr. Gurdjieff goes, he cannot be replaced. Those who remain cannot create the same conditions. We have only one hope—to make something together—what no one of us could do, perhaps a Group can. We no longer have a teacher, but we have the possibility of a Group. Let us make this our chief aim for the future.
Dorothy took this advice very personally and spent her life aiming at leading a Group worthy of Gurdjieff’s teaching.
For over thirty years I was a member of George and Dorothy’s Group, meeting monthly in Cardiff and at Wincanton for weekend days of work. Dorothy provided the perfect counterpoint to George and together they created the conditions for us to see hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves. Often this was painful but then there were the responses to our observations and questions—both the asked and the unasked—and often given to others in the course of a meeting.
Dorothy often spoke of the shock of meeting Mr. Gurdjieff and of Bennett’s phrase: “I feed you on milk, but Mr. Gurdjieff feeds you on strong meat.” Dorothy carried that forward. It was not easy for us to be fed on strong meat, but neither was it easy for Dorothy. She could be merciless.
Who will now tread on my corns?
bout seventy years ago three young scientists met through their shared profession as researchers in fields at first related to the Coal Board Utilization Association. They were George Phillpotts, John Bennett and Med Thring. This professional relationship developed into a bond forged by their study of the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff. It was at a replacement for a laboratory in Earls Court, bombed in 1942, that John Bennett first saw the suitability of Coombe Springs as the home for a study of Gurdjieff’s teachings and George spent many weekends and fortnights there.
When Mr. Ouspensky died in 1948, Mme. Ouspensky sent Mr. Gurdjieff’s address in Paris to John Bennett, who subsequently arranged a series of long weekends, when several carloads of members of his Groups, including the Phillpotts, attended enormous meals at 6 rue des Colonels Renard, between June 1948 and July 1949. Sometimes they also took part in Movements classes at the Salle Pleyel.
Until his recent death, George and Dorothy Phillpotts worked devotedly together with groups of people in the West Country and in southern France, never losing contact with the Gurdjieff Society in London. They represent a generation of remarkable people, whom we can only honor, who met Gurdjieff and gave the rest of their lives to the transmission of his ideas.
George was seen by us as proffering his excellent understanding through simple directness. He was most unassuming, sweet-natured, and with a lovely sense of humor.
I find it hard to put into words what it was like to be with George Phillpotts because so much of what he conveyed about the Work and about the whole of life was done without words, simply by being in his presence. He was certainly well versed—one can almost say an “expert”—in the various aspects of the Work and, if called upon, he could speak with knowledge and experience. However, it was by his actions that I have a taste of the man. He once cooked me the best boiled egg I have ever eaten.
Underpinning everything was his spirit of enquiry. His simple comments—his (sometimes “deadpan”) observations, his teasing, endless in my case, a small shrug of the shoulders or a murmur of assent—all of these conveyed a devastating line of questioning in which nothing was accepted at face value. “Everything can be considered suspicious,” he said. □
George & Dorothy Phillpotts on their wedding day, 1st August 1941.
 Dorothy Phillpotts, Discovering Gurdjieff (2008) UK: AuthorHouse Ltd. The two photos used herein are from this book and are Copyright © 2008 The Estate of Dorothy Phillpotts.
 The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members (2008–2009), pp. 22–23.
 Ibid. (2005–2006), pp. 28–29.
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