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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

Conrad retires to the field

The Princess and the Spy Master



On his return to England, there was no war work available. Apparently, this was the end of his career in Secret Intelligence. He had been thinking about his spiritual and intellectual life through his correspondence with Uranda and Martin Cecil. He had developed an interest in education as a philosophical topic. A chance meeting with a Dr L. P. Jacks, then editor of the Hibbert Journal, a Quarterly Review of Religion, Theology and Philosophy, gave him an opportunity to follow this interest and he contributed a piece called “Spiritual basis for Educational Reconstruction” in October 1943. He also had a piece published in the Times Literary Supplement at about the same time. He met Crookie again and made an attempt to woo her but to no avail. It ended in laughter, and he says they both knew they would never take each other in earnest. He was living in Oxford and he was invited to a party by an acquaintance from Kitzbühel. On a rainy night he entered the house in St John’s Street. “Grouped around the fire were some young people, among whom one, in particular, Rosalie, stood out in relief, causing a dim-out of the others in my eyes.” (DM p. 237)


Conrad had fallen in love at first sight and, for her part, Rosalie reciprocated his feelings. They began meeting regularly in Oxford. It was October 1944 and the ‘shooting phase of the war was over.’ Allied troops had crossed into Germany. The winter, though, saw him fall ill again. He became worse and his landlady was unhappy to have an invalid in her house and suggested he go to a convalescent home of a friend of hers in the New Forest.  Rosalie went with him and nursed him back to health. The American boyfriend of the nurse who ran the home went back to America and the nurse decided to close the home and follow him. The charwoman was sent to pass on the news to Conrad and Rosalie. “Having croaked out her message to us she volunteered the advice, ‘Why don’t you marry ‘er and take ‘er back to Canada with you? . . . Rosalie and I looked at each other. We agreed she was right, and so that is exactly what we did.” (DM p. 242)


They stayed until 8 May –  VE day –  and saw Winston Churchill driving slowly down Piccadilly with his V sign and cigar, followed by cars full of returned POW’s amid tumultuous celebration by the crowds that lined the way. A few days later, the newlywed Mr and Mrs ffrench sailed for Canada and Arbutus Point.


Vancouver and Arbutus Point did not agree with Rosalie. It was full of retired old people and the dampness of the climate made her cough. Conrad had contacts in Alberta and they moved to Banff. Conrad taught watercolour painting at the Art College there. He had further plans, however, and  after five years’ negotiations with the National Park Authorities, he managed to get a prime spot within the park to build a home. What a home he built! Fairholme was a 60-foot log cabin – the largest in Canada at the time. He became a rancher and wrote on the topic. Rosalie had two children, Rollo and John, and they lived quite happily until 1954, when Conrad took her to the newly purchased centre of the Ministries, Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado. They stayed for 6 months and were involved in the founding of the Ranch and participated in an intensive course of study under Uranda and Martin Cecil. Unfortunately, seeing her marriage in the light of their teachings, Rosalie could not continue and the marriage disintegrated. This was hard for Conrad to take, and even harder for the children. But the marriage was over and Conrad returned to Fairholme alone.

Conrad's 90th Birthday.


Conrad lasted four years at Fairholme, but in the end accepted he must sell as his funds were dwindling. Then, on 29 April 1958, he had a phone call from the Director of Protocol in OttawaPrincess Margaret was to visit Banff and the Canadian Government wanted to rent Fairholme for her stay. It was agreed and, on 24 June, he handed over the keys and moved to a hotel for the duration of the visit. This was a windfall for Conrad: what better publicity could one ask to sell a house! After the visit, Fairholme was sold back to the Parks Department and Conrad moved to West Vancouver. Rosalie had taken the children there after they had parted. He painted and wrote articles and became further involved with the Ministries – now called the Ontologists.  He lived there for 15 years while his children grew to manhood. Then in 1973 he moved to Sunrise Ranch where he continued to paint and teach from the Waterwheel Gallery. The journalist Walter Stuart, who had interviewed him in the Seventies wrote of him living at Sunrise Ranch in his book of 2000 My Cross-Country Checkup. He says Conrad

 "was living like an Oriental prince. He had given most of his money to Ontlology in return for living quarters in a splendid cabin on a mountaintop, where five - no kidding - young women took turns in making sure he was well fed and cared for." (p. 246).  


The reality of this living arrangement was more prosiac than Walter Stuart implies. Conrad was a greatly respected teacher lecturer and mentor to the members of the Ministries. Naturally he was cared for with much affection in his declining years. But neverthless surely this would have been the perfect end for the fictional character his life in espionage had inspired. Conrad died on 23 October 1986, just a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday. His ashes are buried at Sunrise Ranch. 

Life begins at 90

By Conrad O’Brien-ffrench.

written to celebrate his 90th birthday.


We are here to celebrate my growing out of my 80’s.

We are here to celebrate my growing out of my 80's.

I thus start my second series of eighties.

I hope there will be more as I grow up.


During my first 80 years everybody wanted to carry my luggage or help me up the steps.


If I forgot my name, or someone else's, people said.  "Oh well.  He's 80, you know ,"


if I put things away and forgot where I put them, or while shopping left my shopping list at home.  It was okay because I was 80.


If I acted silly, put shaving cream on my toothbrush tried starting my car with my house key.  It was understandable - he's 80


At 60 or 70 some expected me to retire to my little house on the hill, or to Hawaii.


But if you survive until 80 everybody surprised that you can walk , let alone uphill, or can drive a car,  or that you have occasional lucid moments.


At 70 I was clumsy and made mistakes which maddened everyone. But at 80 they forgive you everything and think it is rather funny.


If you ask me life begins at 90.


Conrads Final interview in full.

click to open into larger image

photograph by Conrads friend Dr Hugh Malafry

The Art of 00brien



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