Archive for Buffalo

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.

Bruce Adams

He was a lovely & congenial guy, and beloved in my old hometown. Here’s some of his artwork.

From the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center website:

To our strong and vibrant art community — in Buffalo and beyond:

Today, we lost one of the leading figures in our world — artist, writer, and art educator Bruce Adams.

Many of you know that Bruce was living and working with cancer since October 2020. A relentless creator and communicator, he continued to paint and publish his writing almost until the end.

Bruce’s family will be grieving the loss of their husband, father, uncle, brother, and grandfather on their own time and in private. Because Bruce was such a big part of our arts community, they have asked us to let you know how we can gather, mourn, and pay tribute to Bruce as an artist, writer, educator, and friend.

Bruce’s wife Renee has confirmed that if people are moved to make a donation in Bruce’s memory, please donate to Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. Bruce was a long-time member, and was president of the Board of Directors for many years. He often referred to Hallwalls as his church.

Hallwalls is also a place you can visit if you would like to spend some time thinking about Bruce. Beginning Saturday March 13th from 5PM to 9PM, and during Hallwalls gallery hours through April 16th, there will be a tribute sign at the building entrance, and inside there will be a small tribute exhibition and a book where you can sign and share feelings and memories.

If you would like to visit on the first day of the tribute exhibition, please reserve your time slot using this link. After that first day, Hallwalls’ gallery is open Tuesday-Friday, 11am-6pm and Saturday 11am-2pm.

Over the next year and a half, there will be retrospective exhibitions of Bruce’s extensive body of work. The legacy to be celebrated includes a collection of incredible paintings from 14 unique series, performances, and multimedia installations created over a period of 40+ years.

Bruce Adams was an uncompromising artist who was always proudly 100% from, about, and for Buffalo. We will miss him almost as much as he has impacted our world.

Thank you.

Edmund Cardoni, Elizabeth Licata, John Massier, Elisabeth Samuels, and Emily Tucker

The great Tom Toles retires

What a wonderful career.

I had a chance to meet Tom Toles back when I was an editor at the University at Buffalo’s student newspaper, The Spectrum. Tom worked there a few years before me when he was a student and still contributed some of his caricatures from time to time while he was also drawing editorial cartoons for The (late) Buffalo Courier Express and the Buffalo Evening News (now the Buffalo News).

Later, Tom did covers for Free Inquiry magazine, which I edited in the late 1980s. (See cover below.) I believe he contributed his work for free.

Tom is an exceptionally cool man.

Update: Toles’ drawings in his university years tended to be more realistic than the editorial cartooning he did afterwards. Below is one of my favourite illustrations by Tom, of University at Buffalo “campus prophet” Michael Stephen Levinson, from 1973.

Happy to help

Leonard Bernstein died thirty years ago today. I always think of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg on this anniversary. I wrote this ten years ago:

Twice in the last week I have helped to prevent a calamity from befalling a colleague. One colleague was irritated and the other was infuriated to receive my editorial help, though they each requested it. Both will come out “smelling like a rose” (to use an expression my Dad has always loved and that I now love, too).

In my last couple of years in book publishing back in the early 1990s, I spent more than half of my time, it seemed, addressing legal matters: Making sure that my authors weren’t going to get the company I worked for, Prometheus Books Inc., sued for defamation, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement, and the like. Although I did not become an editor so that I could act as an ersatz lawyer, I did enjoy the role, especially because I got to talk to a REAL lawyer, and a great one, Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, a lot.

Stefan provided his services for free, because he liked the books we published. He was a wonderful and brilliant and eclectic man, who reached the highest levels of accomplishment as a musical conductor and mathematician and teacher before starting his career in Law. I didn’t know he’d been a conductor until I called him one afternoon regarding a lawsuit. Leonard Bernstein had died the day before, and for some reason I brought that up with Stefan. “I was his assistant conductor for a year,” he said. “This sounds more impressive than it was. My main job was to have a cigarette lit and ready for Lenny when he came offstage.”

Back to my point: Because of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, many of my authors *didn’t* besmirch their reputations and *didn’t* get their butts sued. To a person, they were unhappy receiving the help they received, because they believed they didn’t need it. They all asked: What could go wrong?

A calamity is smaller than a comma when it’s born.

Remembering Stefan – and remembering my mentor Paul Kurtz, the difficult boss who introduced me to him – fills me with gratitude. Some very gifted people have shared their time with me.

The end in the beginning

A girlfriend once told me that I wrapped presents so poorly that no gift inside could overcome the offence I’d given by the mayhem of paper and tape on the outside. That was almost forty years ago. The sight of wrapping paper to this day makes me want to smoke crack.

A few Christmas seasons ago, I was in Buffalo with my partner staying with her family. The night before Christmas she took all of the gifts she’d sent to Buffalo in advance out of the boxes, so that she could wrap them here in our small bedroom. The room seemed an unshakeable chaos. There were sixty-two presents. I started to cry on the inside.

My beloved was in her element and conducted before me a symphony of wrapping. She saw no chaos. She saw the end in the beginning, perfectly appointed presents with delightful cards, never disorder, no antagonism between love and skill. Sixty-two marvellous gifts, given in love (successfully).

Genius sees no complexity. It sees the end in the beginning. We don’t. I don’t. We see a mess.