BHA mourns Dr Harry Stopes-Roe (1924-2014)

12 May, 2014

Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Vice President of the British Humanist Association

NPG x127855; Harry Stopes-Roe; Marie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes by Bassano
Harry Stopes-Roe; Marie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, by Bassano Ltd 1924

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is greatly saddened to hear of the death of its Vice-President, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, on 11 May 2014.

Son of the birth control campaigner Marie Stopes and businessman and philanthropist Humphrey Verdon Roe, Dr Stopes-Roe was an influential figure in the local, national, and international humanist movements, to which he gave decades of service.

Harry - Vice-President, London
Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, 2009

He began his career with BSc and MSc degrees in physics from Imperial College, London, which he followed with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. As lecturer, and then as senior lecturer in Science Studies at Birmingham University, his work spanned science and philosophy, and ultimately led him to reject god and to seek an alternative basis for morality. Dr Stopes-Roe found in Humanism a cogent expression of morality, and this motivated much of his work with the British Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

Over a distinguished career, Dr Stopes-Roe served as Chair of the British Humanist Association and was appointed Vice President in 1994. He was heavily involved in the formulation of BHA policy on religious and moral education over a number of years, and also played an active role in the Values Education Council UK and Religious Education Council of England and Wales representing the BHA. He was President of the Birmingham Humanists and an appointed lecturer at the Conway Hall Ethical Society, London.

His pioneering international work included chairing the IHEU working group that developed the ‘Minimum Statement’ on global Humanism to unite the humanist associations of over forty countries in a common commitment. He also developed and popularised the term ‘life stance’, which did a tremendous job of communicating and establishing a clear identity for Humanism.

During the late 1970s, Harry led the earliest BHA Ceremonies sub-committee. He collected and edited material drawn from the experience of humanist funeral officiants around the country, which resulted in the booklet Guidelines for Officiants at Non-Religious Funerals, published in 1984.

He was himself one of the pioneers of officiating at humanist funerals, which were until at least the early 1990s considered by many funeral directors to be a very alternative, even controversial, option. When by 1997 BHA Ceremonies had further developed its now-admired and sought-after countrywide network of funeral officiants (more recently referred to as humanist celebrants), one of the requirements of its accreditation scheme was to provide the bereaved family with a full text of the ceremony. However, such was Harry’s competence as a professional lecturer, as well as his effortless grasp of material and formidable memory, he only ever needed the bare minimum of handwritten notes to conduct a funeral. Therefore, ironically, though a begetter of humanist funerals, Harry was to decree himself ineligible for BHA accreditation  a technical anomaly accepted with self-effacement and his characteristic good grace

Harry lived an exemplary humanist life, combining serious concern and action for others with the pursuit of personal fulfilment. When asked as part of a project on humanism and happiness in 2009 what made him happy, he replied, ‘Two things are really important to me, and both make me “happy”: making progress in moral philosophy; making love.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘All of us who worked with Harry were energised by his commitment, stimulated by his intellect, and full of respect for his contribution to the humanist movement over many decades. We will miss him but are all profoundly grateful for having known him.’

Harry is survived by his widow Mary, daughter of engineer Sir Barnes Wallis, and their children, Jonathan, Kathy, Helena and Christopher.

See also
Harry’s obituary in the Telegraph

Harry’s obituary in the Irish Independent: 

Harry’s obituary in the Guardian

Harry’s obituary in the Independent

Harry’s obituary in the Times (£)

Mary Stopes-Roe and BHA trustee David Pollock discussing Harry’s life on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word: