Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn died this morning. He was one of my authors back when I edited Free Inquiry magazine, and we worked on various projects together as he joined the Secular Humanist team we had there in Buffalo, NY thirty or so years ago. I liked him very much – always charming, always honest. A super can-do colleague.

We had a few back-and-forths after I moved on, and we followed each other on Facebook. Whenever Tom popped up in my timeline, my thought was always the same: “Well, Basil, now THERE is a man who really has the courage of his convictions. Pay attention.”

From my colleagues’ announcement:

The world has lost a towering figure of American freethought, a man who was both on the cutting edge of secular humanist thought, as well as the foremost caretaker of its rich history. The entire Center for Inquiry family is anguished by the sudden and unexpected death of our colleague, teacher, and friend Tom Flynn at age 66.

Tom held numerous leadership roles during his more than thirty years with the Center for Inquiry, most recently as editor of Free Inquiry magazine, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum and the Freethought Trail, and former executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

But this collection of titles does not nearly convey the plainer truth, which is that Tom Flynn was the beating heart of the Center for Inquiry and indeed the wider freethought movement.

A stark rationalist and staunch atheist if ever there was one, Tom was nonetheless brimming with enthusiasm, curiosity, bold ideas, and perhaps most of all, humor. He had a deep love and encyclopedic knowledge of freethought history and devoted himself to the preservation and rediscovery of American freethought’s great untold stories.

At the same time, he was a true visionary whose future-focused ideas about religion, atheism, equality, and the existential crises we face as a global civilization were once considered radical but now seem prescient. He was a virtuoso of the written word, penning not only countless articles and essays but also science fiction novels and the defiantly revelatory book The Trouble with Christmas.

Tom revelled in his various public personas, whether as a pugnacious stoker of controversy, a stubborn atheist curmudgeon (as with his infamous “Anti-Claus” alter-ego), or a wisecracking, avuncular coworker. But at his core, Tom was a man excited about big ideas, regardless of their popularity or public acceptance, and he was eager to share those ideas, bringing to them his unmatched combination of scholarship, eloquence, and humor.

“Tom didn’t believe in magic, but he was magical,” said Robyn E. Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “How else to describe this unlikely combination of brilliance, charm, vision, and roll-up-your-sleeves accomplishment?”

“He saved the legacy of the Great Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, from obscurity. He carried the torch for atheism, secular humanism, and clear-eyed rationality for decades with his powerful and copious writings and speeches—undoubtedly helping to cause the Rise of the Nones. All while cracking jokes and delighting everyone in his orbit,” said Blumner. “And how lucky we were to be part of it.”

“The death of Tom Flynn is a tragedy of epic proportions for everyone who cares about the equality of atheists anywhere in the world,” said Edward Tabash, veteran freethought activist and chair of the Center for Inquiry. “He was our conscience against religious bigotry. He was our conscience against irrational action and thought.”

“His razor sharp humor and wit were simply unmatched,” said Tabash. “The best way that we can honor Tom’s memory and all the magnificent work that he did is to continue to devote ourselves to ending religious bigotry anywhere and everywhere.”

To Tom’s wife, Sue, and to his family and friends, all of us at the Center for Inquiry join you in your grief. He was our family, too.

Tom’s hero, Robert Green Ingersoll, once wrote, “A great man does not seek applause or place; he seeks for truth; he seeks the road to happiness, and what he ascertains, he gives to others.” It will be a long time before there can ever be a full accounting of what Tom Flynn gave to all of us. Now Tom joins Ingersoll in what the Great Agnostic called “the perfect rest,” no longer as a mere admirer but as an equal.

I still can hardly believe the news. Sending condolences to his family and to all of the friends and colleagues we shared.

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