Farewell David Smith (1947-2014)
COUNTLESS freethinkers pass though this world without ever joining the ranks of what so many of a religious bent snottily call “aggressive atheists”.
This is their choice, preferring in their own quiet way to encourage those around them to live rational, tolerant lives, free from the shackles of religious fear and superstition, and not seek attention for their efforts.
David Smith was one of these folk. I first met him in 1974, shortly after I arrived in the UK, a refugee from the horrors of apartheid South Africa.
My first home in the capital was a run-down bedsitter in Tottenham, north London, and soon discovered that David, a teacher at a local comprehensive school, lived in the adjacent bedsit, and we became firm friends. We had so much in common, ranging from our hatred of racism and organised religion to the music of Cole Porter. David, incidentally, was a Quaker for many years, and preferred the term “sceptic” to “atheist”.
He organised several talks I gave to pupils at his school, many of them black, who listened with rapt attention – and often stark disbelief – to my experiences of living under a fascist regime brought into being largely by Nazi sympathisers within the Calvinistic Dutch Reformed Church (or “Much Deformed Church” as many dissidents dubbed it).
Apartheid was a product of Christianity, I explained to these kids, and the Bible was used by the Nationalist Government as the principal “handbook” to justify their deadly programme of racial segregation.
David was adored by his pupils, and was greatly respected by them for having the courage to come out as gay at a time when very few teachers could do so without being terrorised by the youngsters in their charge, or losing their jobs.
So well-liked was David that several of his pupils would visit his home for extra tuition, and at least one, Brian Bovell, who at the age of around 15 expressed a desire to become an actor, accomplished his goal largely due to David’s encouragement and his own effervescent personality and determination. (I think I snapped the above picture of the pair in the summer of 1974).
David then took his teaching skills aboard, first to Saudi Arabia, which he had to leave in a hurry after being accused of insulting Islam.
During one of his lessons he was asked by a pupil who Jesus was. He replied:
According to the Bible he was the Son of God.
Pandemonium ensued. Angry pupils screamed “blasphemy” and asserted that Allah never had a son.
He then went to teach in Africa, where he made a great many friends, before returning to the UK, taking early retirement due to ill health.
This morning, one of his male Tanzanian friends, January Clinton, contacted me and asked whether I had heard recently from David. I had been so busy over the past month that I hadn’t noticed that David had not messaged me, nor posted anything to my Facebook wall.
I checked his page, and saw that his last posting was on June 5, when he told the world:
I had a baked Braeburn apple for tea, stuffed with whisky-soaked sultanas and dried cranberries, with a dribble of honey. I served it with a rich, creamy Vanilla ice-cream, topped with the remnants of the dried fruit and whisky, with a little lime juice – a sort of ‘whisky sour’ ice!
A fabulous picture accompanied this.
I immediately called a friend in the UK to inquire about David’s well-being. The answer I got was:
He died on June 6. His funeral took place today.
Farewell, David. In your own quiet way, you helped shape the lives of dozens, of not hundreds of young minds, teaching them the virtues of a joyful, humanistic attitude towards life and the foolishness of blind religious belief. And you did much to enrich my life. For that I salute you.