Humanists UK mourns longstanding member and activist John White

4 July, 2024

Humanists UK is saddened to learn about the death of its longstanding member John White, aged 104.

Harry Stopes-Roe, John White, and James Hemming at a British Humanist Association council meeting in 1979. Photograph: David Pollock Collection.

A life of activism and achievement

John was a leading humanist activist from 1968 and participated as a dynamic member, later Secretary, of Humanists UK’s Education Committee. He soon became the first humanist representative on the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), elected in 1971. From these small beginnings, thanks to his pioneering work, Humanists UK today has 132 SACRE members with full voting rights, making sure humanism and non-religious worldviews have a voice in the shaping of local RE syllabuses.

He was closely involved in the publication of many of Humanists UK’s most influential pamphlets and education policy briefings across the 1960s and 1970s.

Writing about John White in an article for the New Humanist 1990, David Pollock said:

‘Humanists are now widely, but not universally, welcomed on SACREs, and one SACRE has elected a humanist representative as its chairman (a difficult task given that the constitution of SACREs is the same as that of agreed syllabus conferences described above). This happy position is due largely to the pioneering work of John White and the British Humanist Association’s Education Committee (in whose debt I am for much of the material in this article).’

His papers, stored in the Bishopsgate Institute, provide a rich history of Humanists UK’s education campaigns from the 1960s through to the 1990s. 

Commenting on the death of John White, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘I’m very sorry to hear of John’s death. His work as an early pioneer of humanism in RE has left a lasting imprint on our campaign for more inclusive education and on RE itself. A dynamic activist, and for me personally a trusted and generous adviser, to whom we all owe deep gratitude. Our thoughts are with all of his friends and family.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.