Paris Award

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Barbara Smoker Honoured

ON July 7 2005, during the international conference in Paris on "Separation of Religion and State", Barbara Smoker was honoured in the Sorbonne by the International Humanist & Ethical Union with the presentation of "lifetime achievement" award for "Distinguished Services to Humanism" embodied in an engraved silver plate. After a felicitous build-up by the IHEU president, Roy Brown, Barbara made a speech as follows.

"I understand it is customary on such occasions for the recipient to acknowledge those who helped to make the award possible - and my first acknowledgment must be to the good nuns who indoctrinated me with such poppycock that, once I realised I had been conned, I felt impelled to spend the rest of my life decrying it and warning others against it.

"My second acknowledgment is to writers in the humanist tradition, from ancient times to the middle of the twentieth century, who helped to crystallise my emergent ideas. Among those who were still writing and lecturing in the late 1940s and early '5Os was the charismatic H J Blackham; and whenever he was the advertised speaker at the quaintly named Ethical Church in west London I took to making the journey there to hear him. Then I followed him to Conway Hall - and those venues became my university.

"In 1952 Harold Blackham co-founded IHEU; in 1963 he finalised the transformation of the Ethical Union into the British Humanist Association; and in 1974 he was honoured with the very same award with which I have been honoured today. He was then 71; and as he is still quietly enjoying life, at the age of 102, I am wondering if the award actually confers longevity.

"My third acknowledgment is to the National Secular Society, whose members elected me as its president some 35 years ago and put up with me in that office for the next 25 years - an office that opened many doors to me.

"Finally, I would like to thank those of you who selected me to receive this award - for merely enjoying myself all these years and doing just what I wanted to do. Thank you so much."

The 200 congress participants then gave Barbara a standing ovation.