Humanists UK heard with great sorrow of the death of its Vice-President, Lord Dormand of Easington, on 18 December at the age of 84. Lord Dormand was secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and a good friend to Humanism.
His long career began with teaching, when he informed his headmaster that, as an atheist, he would not be able to take religious education. He became education adviser to Durham county council and district education officer in Easington before entering Parliament in 1970, where he served as pairing whip and became Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He was made a life peer in 1987 and spoke regularly in the Lords on education and other matters. He was very well liked, and those of us in Humanists UK who knew him will miss his cheerfulness and charm as well as his support for Humanism.
Obituaries in the national press stressed his integrity and popularity (The Guardian accurately describing him as ‘genial and warm-hearted’), and noted his commitment to Humanism: “He was the catalyst of the All Party Humanist Group, but never was offensive to those who entertained religious beliefs, which he respected. As an absolutely convinced republican, he was never anything but courteous to the noble peers who took a different view, and among whom he was extremely popular.” (The Independent, 20/12/03).
As the most insistent of atheists in the House of Lords after he arrived there in 1987, Dormand demanded equal rights for the non-religious fifth of the population. As a former teacher and education officer, he wanted religions and humanism described neutrally in schools, not propagated.
This was not his original outlook. He started life as a Christian, attended church regularly, sat on the parochial church council and helped with all the church functions. But “after some years of very considerable thought”, he became an atheist, though “I certainly attempt, although I fail regularly, to live by the Christian ethic”’. He became more overtly atheist in the Lords than he had been in the Commons, where he had to worry about his religious constituents.” (The Guardian, 20/12/03).