Upon hearing about the death of Sir Terry Pratchett I felt the world had lost one of its great minds. I’m a huge Pratchett fan: having read his books since I was a small child, I always found them interesting and sort of knew they were funny, but it took getting a little older and wiser to understand why they were so amusing sometime. Terry’s humour was clever like that. I also had the privilege to attend the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) conference in Leeds where Terry received the Humanist of the year award in 2013.
When I heard the news I thought, “What better way to send Terry off than to show that humanists can do death too?” After all: “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” It occurred to me that this would be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the good life of a great man. A man who has left behind not only a wealth of literary works and a rich universe containing the Discworld – precariously perched on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of Great A’Tuin the turtle – that we can all inhabit simply by turning the pages of his books, but also a legacy in ethical and compassionate charitable and social efforts including supporting assisted dying, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
We took this opportunity to raise some money for Alzheimer’s research UK, elevate the campaigns within the humanist sphere that Terry felt were important, and also managed to convince our university and our local paper to cover the event. It was fantastic to see Sheffield University’s Secular and Atheist Society and Barnsley Skeptics get in touch and ask if they could borrow the idea, and then put on similar events of their own too. It does seem that Terry had touched the lives of many in the skeptic community in a positive way.
I felt honoured to read the very speech that Terry sent the BHA at the 2013 humanist of the year awards to open proceedings; it was a moving speech in which Terry’s brand of wit and wisdom shone through. We then watched “Terry Pratchett Shaking Hands with Death”, and “The Colour of Magic” to honour his commitment to many causes he held dear and the legacy in literature that he left us. We also supplied “sausages inna a bun” from Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler courtesy of Fanaki’s Cafe and Cassandra Chatfield. The AHS volunteers as always were essential to running a successful event and helped with putting up posters, taking a register and talking to guests.
We had people from all over the local community take part including members of Lancashire Secular Humanists and other local groups, with whom we’ve become friends, worked with in the past, and plan to partner with for future events. As ever on a Thursday we rounded off the evening with Singing Skeptics, our by-now-legendary karaoke tradition and even encouraged members of the public to join in who subsequently were interested in joining the society.
I sincerely hope that this event celebrated the life and work of Sir Terry Pratchett as we hope he would have wanted it; with humour, reflection and a feeling of only slight embuggerance. And always remember: “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away” – Reaper Man.
Glen Carrigan is Founder and President of University of Central Lancashire’s AHS Society