Obituary: Nona Coxhead

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
NONA COXHEAD was a complex and many-faceted woman: model, dancer, novelist and writer on metaphysical science. She was born in Australia, educated in England and as an adult lived in both the United States and London. From the late 1960s she lectured at the London association of Science of Mind, and later led the group for more than 20 years. No wonder she described her life as peripatetic and kaleidoscopic.

She was born Nona Reed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1914 to an Alsatian-American father and an Australian-Scottish mother. When she was still a young child her father deserted the family, and her mother brought her to England to be educated. Her mother's second husband was Herbert Mundin, the British comedian who worked in Hollywood and appeared in over 100 films in the 1930s including The Desert Song, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Noel Coward's Cavalcade. Nona described him as excruciatingly funny. Her mother, Kathleen, founded the Children's Cancer Fund of America and organised the fundraising "Fan Ball" for more than 25 years.

Meanwhile, Nona was left in various boarding schools - 11 in all - in Britain, America and Australia. During the summer holidays she was often looked after by school caretakers. Lonely and rejected, she became an avid reader and observer of life. At one school, aged 12, she listed reading as her favourite hobby and claimed special time for it. This was granted on condition that she wrote a report on each book she read. That term she reported on 93 books. A few years later, not yet 16, she eloped during a visit to her mother and stepfather in Hollywood. The marriage was later annulled.

After returning to England, a beautiful and elegant young woman, she began to model for Norman Hartnell, and then to perform in London and Paris as an interpretive dancer, creating her own routines to music by Duke Ellington and Cab Callaway, and designing and making her own costumes. She also sang on French radio.

Just before the Second World War broke out she sailed to New York where she married Stuart Coxhead and began her long writing career. At first she tried her hand at short stories, but without much success; then she started on a novel. A friend sent the first seven chapters to Maxwell Perkins (Scott Fitzgerald's editor) at Scribner's; he accepted the book at once. It was published as Though They Go Wandering (1945) and followed the next year by The Heart Has Reasons.

For a while she returned to short stories, which appeared in McCall's, Redbook and the Yale Review. Then came House of Mirror (1950), the complex portrait of a landlady who exerts a hypnotic influence over the lodgers in her boarding house: "an unusual sort of book to come from a young writer", said the critic Pauline C. Coad. "It deals with facts about human personality usually not perceived except after ripe and wide experience coupled with the inquiring mind, which refects surface appearance, striving always to get to the mainspring of human behaviour."

Living in Westport, Connecticut, in the 1950s and early 1960s, Nona Coxhead created the first fiction (correspondence) courses for the Famous Writers School. Some of her short stories were adapted for television, including a novella, Gentle William, which was featured on Playhouse 90 as House of Shadow. Her next two novels, Simon West (1958) and The Monkey Puzzle Tree (1968), depicted suburban life, and were followed by biographies of Amelia Earhart (in 1970, under the pseudonym Nevin Bell) and Greta Garbo (1972).

By the mid-Sixties, Coxhead was at a low point in her life, having separated from her last husband. It was then that she encountered the metaphysical teachings of Ernest Holmes, known as Science of Mind, and trained under the legendary minister Raymond Charles Barker. Science of Mind, a system of constructive thinking, should not be confused with Scientology. It originated at the end of the 19th century with a series of lectures delivered by Judge Thomas Troward. In them he laid out his beliefs that there is one spiritual "power" that comes from God and which is inherently good, and that it can be harnessed for the benefit of mankind and individuals.

Nona Coxhead came to England in 1968, where she found a small but flourishing Science of Mind group run by Dr Winifred Layton Gaubert. On Gaubert's retirement Coxhead started lecturing on the subject herself, first in conjunction with Michael Grimes and later on her own.

She was ordained as a Minister of Religious Science in 1968, and until the end of her life devoted herself wholeheartedly to this metaphysical teaching and as lecturer, teacher, counsellor, healer and leader gave unstintingly of herself, her time, her substance and her energy, helping people make profound changes in their lives.

Her writings expanded into studies of the mind - Mind Power: the emerging pattern of current research (1976) and The Awakened Mind: biofeedback and the development of higher states of awareness (1979), based on the work of Maxwell Cade and written in conjunction with him (he got in touch with her after reading Mind Power). The Relevance of Bliss (1985) was a study of mystical experiences and showed how common such experiences were; Beyond Psychology: the potential of conscious thinking (1991) showed clearly the way that we can control our lives by conscious thinking and self-direction.

She continued to write fiction too - short stories that appeared in Woman and other magazines and a best-selling novel, The Richest Girl in the World, which was based loosely on the life of Barbara Hutton (1978).

In Big Time Baby (1981), No Ordinary Madness (1982), The Passionate Search (1983) and Command Performance (1986) Coxhead drew on her broad knowledge of Hollywood, show business, the 1920s and 1930s, but her non-fiction books were meticulously researched. She made tapes of her teachings which she marketed in a modest way and which sold well.

Nona Coxhead was passionately concerned with animal welfare and in America was for a time one of the editors of the magazine Pet Fair. In England she campaigned vigorously against battery hens.

Nona Kathleen Reed, writer and metaphysical teacher: born Melbourne, Australia 22 December 1914; married first Stuart Coxhead (one daughter), second Paul Cerny (one son), third Stephen Bell; died London 16 July 1998.