Brief Biography and Biographical Notes



Cardiff Theosophical Society

206 Newport Road,

Cardiff, Wales, UK, CF24 – 1DL.




John B S  Coats



John B S Coats

1906 - 1979



John B. S. Coats or JBS Coats was born on July 8th 1906 in Ayr, South Ayrshire, Scotland.


He was a Theosophist and bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church. He became International President of the Theosophical Society Adyar in 1973 and held the post until his death in 1979.


In 1932 he became a member of the T.S. in London. There he met Alice Bailey, C. Jinarajadasa, Rukmini Devi Arundale and George Arundale.


He died on  December 26 1979





John B S Coats

Autobiographical Notes

Pubished in The Theosophist 1980



I was born in Scotland on 8th July 1906, and lived with many ghosts! - In the Sundrum Castle. After preparatory school I continued my education at Eton College from 1918 to 1924.


After this, my family sent me to France for eighteen months or more to acquire fluency in the language. I learned a lot which has stood me in good stead with Theosophical Society work in many European summer-schools and lodges.


I was then taken into the family business of J. & P. Coats, and worked in our Glasgow office for about two years after which I was sent to the Eastern European office in Vienna, where I worked for about three years. Here I learned German which also helped me very much in subsequent Theosophical work.

Thus I have been able to give talks in both - French and German – and I have made mistakes in both languages!


When  I asked for a transfer to England I was told that there were already too many of my family in the home office and so I would have to stay in Vienna; this I refused to do.


So I left the firm and I returned to London where, I took a job in the Stock Exchange. It was in London in 1931 that I met my future wife. However, I retained several business contact in Vienna to do with the building of helicopters. I was back there in 1932 when I met a stranger in a café who spoke to me of Theosophy and this radically changed my life.


Having had an experience with a bird I had shot and wounded earlier, I had already decided to become vegetarian and I was already one before this meeting. I had also worked with Moral Rearmament (then called the Oxford Group Movement) and through this had given up smoking and alcohol.


So when I came back to London in October 1932, I joined the Theosophical Society in England. At this time, Dr. Besant was still alive and her name is on my membership diploma and on Betsan’s too. C.W. Leadbeater also was alive but we never meet neither of them.


Betsan and I were married in October 1933 and them began our family-cum theosophical interest that has dominated our lives ever since. We used to go very often to Stanford House where H.L Gardner lived  with a large – I sometimes think a bit nostalgically home – group of members. He gave very stimulating and illuminating talks and we met interesting people there – Mrs. Alice Bailey, for instance. One day we were invited to meet C. Jinarajadasa and that was a great occasion; a year later we meet Dr. Arundale and Rukmini.


That was the beginning of four busy and specially happy years rather close contact with G.S.A. I suppose that I learned more from him and though him felt more the deep reality of Theosophy and of the Elder Brothers, than in any other period of my theosophical life.


1935 saw us going around the world, and then we spent some six years in Adyar. After this, there was a work in Europe – traveling in 1936 with the Arundales to many countries including the Balkans and Scandinavia – and we were busy in England with our first attempt as given talks.


In 1935 I was involved in the reformation of the World Federation of Young Theosophists in which Dr. Arundale interested himself deeply. For a number of years, I was its President-Chairman and am pleased to say it is now going even stronger than ever – not due to my efforts, but to its own.


1937/38 saw us again in Adyar with two children and we were very busy there. Betsan helped Rukmini to arrange an art exhibition and I worked in the President’s office, which was a great experience. It was at the time of the writing of the Lotus Fire and an atmosphere of what we might call ‘Yoga in Depth’ ruled Adyar. 1938 brought other happenings, of which the most telling for us were a farewell in October to the Arundales (I was never to see G.S.A. alive again in this life, although we had much correspondence), the death of my father in August and the fatal accident to my son Christipher on 13th December.

Then came the war that was to change the lives of so many of us so radically. I went into the Army in England, joining the security forces and hoping I might not have to kill anyone! However, even during the course of training I had a rather severe motor-bicycle accident which kept me in and out of hospital for many months and resulted in my being invalid out of the army.


There was an election for General Secretary of the English Section in 1941 and I was elected; I remained in the post until 1946. They were difficult years because of the war, but also full of opportunities in very unusual circumstances. We just did the best we could with the blackout, the bombings, the restrictions necessary for a country besieged, as England virtually was for some years before the tide turned. Betsan kept house in the country with sometimes as many fifty people in our home. Not all the varied types of persons mixed particularly well, but they were all there to escape for a time of the Bombing. We had our own relations as well as evacuees from the slums of London.


In London the nights were spent, often enough, getting up when the siren sounded, to go out on duty in the streets.  The ‘buzzbombs’, as we called them, provided us with many an opportunity for serious consideration of life one moment and death the next.


I manage to go over to France in an Army plane on Victory in Europe Day. There were vast crowds in the streets of Paris and everyone was singing and dancing; it was all very moving. I shall never forget the first time the French Members met again in their own headquarters (it had been used by the Gestapo for many unhappy purposes) with everyone bringing lilies of the valley for H.P.B.’s White Lotus Day commemoration.


In 1946, just after I stepped down from the General Secretary’s job, we were invited to go to the United States of America to work for some years. By this time C. Jinarajadasa was President. I had had very close contact with him all during the war when he was frequently in London at the Centre he had built up there. A house had been bought in 1939 and here Bro. Raja lived for most of the war, it being thought necessary to have such a focus in London when (the fall of Holland having been foreseen) Huizen would no longer be able to function properly. It was a marvelous chance to be often with Bro. Raja and to benefit from his wisdom.


Three or three and half years in the U.S.A. passed very quickly. We were very busy lecturing up and down the country, and there were visits to Canada, Mexico and Cuba. There were conventions and federation-meetings and in the summer, the opportunity to see the Wild West and other beautiful places in this vast country. The children were at school in the Ojai Valley and this has left a good mark on them.


In 1949, Betsan and the family returned to England and I went on to Australia and New Zealand for six months in each country touring on T.S. work.


1951 was a year of moving house and much change in our living-patterns. Betsan went off on a tour of Australia and I visited Lodges all over Europe and the U.K. We all met in 1952 in South Africa and went around the Lodges in this country. We went up Kenya and made many contacts with Indian Members in East Africa. Then over by boat to Adyar for the Convention of 1952/53, with three children who went to school at Adyar and loved it. We were present to see Brother Raja to transfer the Presidential ring to Bro. Sri Ram. It was an inspiring moment.


In 1953 I became Secretary to Mr. Van Dissel, at that time in charge of the European Federation with its more than twenty countries. There was much traveling – attending and arranging summer – schools, visiting Lodges all over the continent. My languages came in useful in that I was able to visit a number of Lodges that had hardly ever been visited before.


It was already a year or more since Betsan had started ‘Wings of Friendship’ to bring help to the unfortunates in the refugee camps of Europe. I helped with it from the start but initially it was her idea.We were able to combine visits to the many camps of Germany. Austria, Italy and Greece. This was a busy period.


In 1957 Betsan went off to Australia with our youngster son and began building her Hotel project to help refugees to emigrate to a decent job. A six months projected trip finally lengthened into fifteen years.


In 1959 I was elected President of the European Federation and continued to do the same kind of work until I stepped down in 1968. Nine years seemed long enough to hold a job; I believe in change, wherever feasible. During this time, and on account of a number of invitations received, I managed to visit India a number of times and there were three visits to South America, the United States and Australia, with shorter visits to other pplaces, e.g. Israel and Africa en route to and from India. Tice we organized air charter-flights to India for the Adyar Convention, and these were happy occasions for all who took part and helped to make the Conventions a little more international! Adyar is far away!


In 1966 Sri Ram asked me to arrange the World Congress – the first since 1936 when it was in Geneva. This necessitated many visits to Salzburg, but I had much fine assistance.Bro. Sri Ram presided over about 1.300 members from all over the world and I think everyone felt that the Congress was really useful.


In 1968, my children having married and gone away, I sold my house in England and set out on  my wanderings on behalf of the Society. I visited South America, the West Indies, Mexico, the U.S.A. and Canada, Honolulu and Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaya, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, India, Ceylon, and Pakistan, East, South and West Africa, Israel and nearly every country in Europe. I am grateful for all the hospitality received everywhere, even if, at times, I sometimes think a bit nostalgically about Home.

Well, I am a Cancerian…!


While I was active in Europe Sri Ram asked me to do all I could for the Theosophical Order of Service and this side of the work has always interested me very much. I think we have to be active, in some form or other, as well as being concerned with the spreading of the theosophical ideal. And it is to the world that we must direct our chief effort not solely to our own small group.







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