Tributes pour in for Barbara Smoker (1923 – 2020)

Tributes have been pouring in for SELHuG President Barbara Smoker, who died on the 7th of April. Here are a selection that have come in since we reported her death last month.

Bromley Humanists secretary Asad Abbas says meeting Barbara in 2003 changed the course of his life: “From what she said I became convinced that humankind needed secularism and humanism. It led me to become active in the organisations which promote these ideologies.”

And former SELHuG Chair James Dobson says that Barbara “sort of adopted me, and we became firm friends.” He and Asad both encouraged her to publish her autobiography, My Godforsaken Life, and it fell to James to type the manuscript and patiently make all the amendments the scrupulous author demanded. James says: “With an IQ of 156 Barbara was a very incisive thinker, and was both mentally and physically courageous… Despite her advanced years and failing health, she remained self-sufficient and entirely lucid until about two weeks before she died.”

Roy Brown, Former President of International Humanist & Ethical Union (now Humanists International) said: “She was an inspiration to me, as I know she was to thousands of others. I was privileged to present her with the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award at the World Humanist Congress in Paris in 2005. I bought two dozen of her book Humanism to distribute to people who had expressed interest in the subject: a brilliant book, easy to read but getting to the heart of the ethical issues surrounding religious certainty and freedom of inquiry. One of the all-time greatest Humanists.”

Humanists UK published a long tribute to Barbara. Its Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, said: “Barbara was a fearless campaigner whose life story should inspire us all today. She led a long and exuberant life of activism and was never afraid to ruffle feathers as she worked for what she saw as positive changes in our society.”

Ann Garrett, Secretary of Bromley Borough CND, said what a great supporter Barbara was of the White Poppy ceremony held every Remembrance Sunday, along with Denis Cobell.

The Times obituary of Barbara noted: “Smoker, who was well read and iconoclastic to a fault, liked nothing better than a good debate with fundamentalist Christians, tripping them up on the finer points of the Trinity and trapping them in their own self-contradictions.”

Steven Butler, an American history professor and Humanist activist who met Barbara when he gave a talk to SELHuG and entered into a correspondence with her says: “Although the time Barbara and I spent together was very brief, the memory of it will stay with me always. But the very best way to remember her, I think, not just for me but for everyone who came into contact with her… is to do our best to follow the example she set in the realm of humanist activism, and that will be her legacy.”

Barbara’s obituary has appeared in the Guardian , the South London Press and the Freethinker

She was also featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘obituary programme’ Last Word on 1st May.