1952 - Elsbeth and Adam McLean: A Caux wedding

By Mary Lean

Maclean wedding Caux 1958 square


When Elsbeth Spoerry helped to clean up the derelict Caux Palace for the first conferences in 1946, she could hardly have guessed that, six years later, she would get married there – with over 1,000 conference participants as guests.

Elsbeth married Adam McLean on 9 August 1952. Adam, a proud Scot, wore his kilt, and Elsbeth’s eight bridesmaids, from different countries, wore their national costumes. Four ministers from three denominations officiated: ‘we were thoroughly spliced,’ Adam wrote in his autobiography.

The wedding was unusual for other reasons too. Elsbeth had grown up in privilege in Zurich, as a member of one of Switzerland’s great industrial families. Adam’s father had been a coalminer in Musselborough, near Edinburgh. Adam left school at 14, continuing his education in evening classes. Elsbeth went to Zurich, Geneva and Freiburg Universities, and graduated as a Doctor of Law.


McLean wedding with pageboy


They each encountered Initiatives of Change (then known as Moral Rearmament/MRA) in the 1930s: Elsbeth through Hélène Mottu, who with her husband, Philippe, later headed up the purchase of the Caux Palace; and Adam through his boss in the garage where he worked as a motor mechanic. During World War II, Elsbeth worked in one of her father’s factories, and trained as an ambulance driver.

The outbreak of war caught Adam in North America, where he was taking part in an MRA campaign. He stayed on in the US, working to raise morale and improve industrial relations, particularly in the aircraft industry. When the US joined the war, he was called up and fought in Italy, where he was injured and decorated for his heroism. After the war he based in Italy for 14 years, working with MRA at a time of fierce strife between Fascism and Communism. He got to know Elsbeth, who spoke four languages, when she interpreted for the delegations he brought to Caux.

I do not think anyone could have dreamed up a more perfect place to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of life to think quietly.

Adam wrote of his first visit to Caux, driving a large American car: ‘The brightly tiled roof and turrets shone in the sun. Because of the power under the bonnet of the American Buick there was really no difficulty climbing up the very steep and winding road, but I was to discover it was a test for the immediate post-war small car drivers to make it to the top without boiling or busted radiators. I do not think anyone could have dreamed up a more perfect place to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of life to think quietly.’*

Their engagement took place by mail: Adam was in Italy and Elsbeth in the US. When she accepted, a Communist trade union leader threw a celebration party for Adam – and the union leader’s ex-Fascist father-in-law, not to be outdone, invited Adam to dinner in his home. During the evening, Adam realised that the hill he could see from his host’s window was familiar. He had struggled up that hill under sniper fire during the war. ‘Do you know where the sniper was firing from?’ his host asked him. ‘From that chair you have got your foot on!’


McLean wedding group


Everyone who was in Caux in 1952 for the summer conferences was included in the wedding celebrations: but some came specially. Among them was an Italian professor and socialist politician, Umberto Calosso, and his wife. They arrived in Caux looking travel-worn, wrote Adam, having received the invitation only a day before, while on holiday in the mountains in Piedmont.

They had to get down to the nearest village on donkeys and find a friend with a small car.

‘They had to get down to the nearest village on donkeys and managed to find a friend there with a small car. Comrade Umberto cheerfully invited his friend to our wedding so, by driving through the night, they arrived in time for the service and festivities, much to our delight.’

Adam and Elsbeth shared their lives for 46 years, until Elsbeth died in 1999.  Adam died in 2008. Theirs was one of many partnerships forged and consecrated in Caux in the last 75 years.




Arthur McLean portrait as soldier

Adam McLean was a born story-teller. It was for his grandchildren that he first wrote the tale of his adventures as a young man which took him from the shores of the Firth of Forth to Hollywood, the aircraft factories of Boeing, into the US Army and finally back to Europe. Discover an extract of his autobiography here:

As he struggled to regain consciousness McLean heard the stretcher-bearers arguing whether it was possible to carry him through the heavy shelling to the mountain tracks.

'Pick up Scotty and get back over,’ insisted his buddy Rocky. 'We cannot go over that open ground to the mountain.‘

'Pick him up now.' They still hesitated. Adam heard the bolt rattle in Rocky’s rifle.

'Pick Scotty up, or you won’t pick up anyone ever again.'

So they took him back ... and that is how McLean reached Rome where he was to spend the great part of the next twenty years, forging friendships with people from all ways of life.

Read more about Adam's adventures in his book Whatever next.




This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.


  • * Whatever Next (Linden Hall, 1992)
  • Photo top: Initiatives of Change
  • Photo Adam & wedding: McLean Family


Featured Story
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

This is us square 8.png

75 Years of Stories: Meet the team!

When we launched the 75 Years of Stories series in February 2021 about 75 years of encounters at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, we had no idea what an adventure we had embarked o...

Caux in snow 2021 credit Cindy Bühler

2021: Initiatives of Change Switzerland – Opening Caux’s doors to a new chapter

As our series of 75 stories for 75 years of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux draws to an end, the President of Initiatives of Change Switzerland, Christine Beerli, and its two Co-Di...

Aad Burger

2020: Aad Burger – Struck by a virus

In 2020, the Caux Forum went online in response to the pandemic. Its organizers found that this made Caux accessible to people all over the world who could not have taken part in normal circumstances....

Marc Isserles 2017

2019: Marc Isserles – ‘We must save the children’

During World War II, the Caux Palace (later the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Switerland) provided a refuge for Jews fleeing the Shoah. Over the years, some of them – or their descendants...

Wael Broubaker climate actionist

2018: Wael Boubaker – ‘Climate change should be top top top priority’

When Tunisian economics graduate Wael Boubaker joined the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) in 2018, he expected a conference which would look good on his CV, and some beautiful scenery. Inst...

Tanaka Mhunduru CPLP

2017: Tanaka Mhunduru – A home for the world

Tanaka Mhunduru from Zimbabwe is one of the organizers of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP), a one-month programme for young people from around the world. He first took part in 2017....

Diana Damsa Winter Gathering 2016

2016: Diana Damsa – ‘It made me feel I counted’

The Winter Gathering of 2016 was a special experience for Diana Damsa – not just because she experienced Caux in winter, but also because, for the first time in eight years, she had no responsibilitie...

Philippe and Liseth Lasserre

2015: Lisbeth Lasserre – ‘The richness in art’

Lisbeth Lasserre came from Winterthur, where her grandparents, Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser, had built up a private collection of art at their home, Villa Flora. Amongst their artist friends were Bonnard...

Catherine Guisan

2014: Catherine Guisan – Europe’s Unfinished Business

Catherine Guisan is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. She has written two books on the ethical foundations of European integration. In 2014 she spoke at Caux’s first se...

Tom Duncan

2013: Tom Duncan – Restoring a healthy planet

2013 saw the first full-length Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS). These events, which took place at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, focus on the links between sustainable land managem...

Merel Rumping

2012: Merel Rumping – Going out on a limb

When Merel Rumping from the Netherlands first visited Caux in 2012, she had a goal in mind – ‘to explore how I could contribute to a more just world through my professional activities’....

Lucette Schneider

2011: Lucette Schneider – Choices which make the magic of Caux

For many years, Lucette Schneider from Switzerland organized the team which gathered in the early mornings to wash, peel and chop vegetables for the kitchens of the Caux conference centre. ...

Mohan Bhagwandas 2003

2010: Mohan Bhagwandas – Addressing the crisis of integrity

Mohan Bhagwandas is all too aware of his carbon footprint. In the 13 years from 2006 to 2019, he flew 17 times from his home city of Melbourne, Australia, to Switzerland to take part in the Caux confe...

Rajmohan Gandhi 2011 Caux Forum Human Security

2009: Rajmohan Gandhi – Bridges between India and Pakistan

25 distinguished Indians and Pakistanis came to Caux in 2009 with the aim of building bridges between their countries. The man who initiated the gathering was Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Ga...

Iman Ajmal Masroor

2008: Learning to be a Peacemaker – ‘An eye-opener to the world’

2008 saw the launch of an unusual course on Islam’s approach to peacemaking for young Muslims and non-Muslims, devised by Imam Ajmal Masroor from the UK. The course’s coordinator, Peter Riddell, descr...