THE family of a puppeteer who worked on children’s TV programmes like Captain Scarlet before moving to Gwent to spread the Baha’i religion is today paying to tribute to her after her death from cancer at 67.
Rita Bartlett was one of around 70 members of the Baha’i Faith in Gwent and spent much of her life helping to establish permanent Baha’i community groups known as local assemblies, as far afield as the Orkney Islands but also for many years in Abercarn and Newport.
Born in the 1940s in Cardiff to Ernest and Esther Bridge, a Communist foundry worker and an Irish Roman Catholic, a young Rita Bridge attended Mass every week but soon began to explore other religions.
In the process she was introduced to Doreen Bartlett who lived one street over, the woman who would become her mother-in-law when Rita married Doreen’s son Viv in 1970.
In 1966 the then Miss Bridge joined the Baha’i Faith and went on to set up a local assembly (a gathering of nine or more Baha’i believers) in Orkney.
The late 1960s also saw her studying drama at college in Cardiff and she became a puppeteer with the travelling Caricature Theatre, touring Wales.
When work dried up she went to work for Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, at his studios in Berkshire, where she was a floor puppeteer and used to dress the marionettes.
Upon returning to South Wales in 1969 she travelled to Newport to support Viv Barlett’s newly-established local assembly of Baha’i members and Mr Bartlett told her that the night before, he’d dreamt she was the girl he would marry.
“An hour later she proposed,” said Mr Bartlett, 68, formerly a teacher at Lliswerry High and now an author.
The pair married at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff in 1970 and moved several times around Newport, including to Pill and Bettws where they lived for 10 years and had two children, Fleur and Leila, now 41 and 39. Later they settled in Abercarn where they had a son, Kalim, now 27, and started to establish a local assembly of Baha’i in the Valleys.
“People were quite wary of us and sceptical,” said Mr Bartlett. “For generations there had only been two religions, Christianity and down the rugby club. But all the wariness has gone now and we are more Valleys people now.”
Mrs Bartlett was an ambassador for the Baha’is at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, heading a procession of spiritual leaders in Westminster Abbey, a proud moment, said her husband.
Spiritual meetings and conversations with neighbours regularly took place in the Bartlett household, said daughter Fleur Missaghian, although her mother was incapacitated during the last 10 years of her life with cancer, from which she died last year.
“She was a very powerful woman, vibrant, and an amazing communicator,” said Mrs Missaghian, now also a drama teacher. She had a lot of time for people. Whatever we were into as kids, she kept up. At her funeral on December 23 the rain stopped for an hour while we said prayers at her graveside. It was a celebration of happiness and love.”
About 300 people attended the funeral, in Llanhilleth.