Earl Russell (1937 – 2004)

Humanists UK was sad to hear of the death of historian, Liberal Democrat peer, and Patron of Humanists UK, Earl Russell.

Earl Russell was the son of the philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell, and inherited his father’s interest in ideas and liberal principles. While at Oxford, he campaigned for women to be allowed to speak at the Oxford Union and he remained a life-long campaigner “as happy stuffing envelopes as drafting press releases”, according to The Guardian. He was very active in the House of Lords, where he often spoke on educational issues and campaigned for the repeal of the notorious (now abolished and unlamented) “Section 28”. When the Bill incorporating the Human Rights Act went through the Lords, he attacked the hypocrisy of the Church of England which had supported the Act but sought to be exempt from some of its requirements. In 1999, he came top in his party in the elections for the hereditary peers who would remain in the Lords. He was a member of the Parliamentary Humanist Group, and many humanists will have appreciated his regular lucid and humane letters to editors.

The Guardian obituaries noted “his integrity, humanity, acuity and shy warmth”, describing him as “a committed, conscientious and inspiring teacher” in his academic career, and “ever a champion of the underdog”, most notably in recent times, of asylum-seekers. The Telegraph described “the honesty which made all parties happy to deal with him.” As a man of principle and a humanist with some influence, he will be sadly missed.