Longest-serving Humanist Society member dies aged 90

July 4, 2016

Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) is deeply saddened by the news that Tom Birkley, our oldest and longest serving surviving member has died in St John’s Hospital, Livingston on the 18th of June aged 90. Investigations revealed that he was the 46th member of HSS since the charity was formalised in 1989.

Tom must have been one of the founding members of the society and, if not a founding member, one of the very earliest members when the Society was first formed in Scotland.

Thomas Birkley known as “Tom”, was born in Woodmuir, a small village near Breich in West Lothian on the 28th of October 1925, the elder son of Sarah and Fred, having one brother, Robert. Tom spent his formative years in Woodmuir where he was schooled, although he didn’t particularly enjoy school and was often found hiding behind the wash house or coal house.

Tom left school at the age of 14 and started working in mining at Woodmuir Colliery. Although he had short spells in other jobs, he spent most of his working career in the mining industry. He recalled as a youngster having to work at a coal seam only 2 feet high and, to extract the coal, he had to lie on his back with his elbows hitting the roof.

In addition to Woodmuir Colliery, he worked in Whitrigg Colliery, Fauldhouse Colliery and latterly at Polkemmet Colliery where he received several promotions, finishing in the responsible position of Mine Safety Officer prior to his retirement.

Tom met his wife, Margaret, at the local dancing in Fauldhouse Co-op Halls. They married in Fauldhouse in 1949. They both loved dancing and Tom loved “the big band sound”. When younger he would travel to Glasgow to hear such famous bands as Joe Loss and his orchestra. While his son was at primary school, Tom started singing in the local club at Breich. His singing career developed and he sang in clubs, Old Folk’s Homes to entertain the residents and at Burns Suppers. Learning and practising a new song for the clubs often took place in the doo’cot.

In retirement, Tom and Margaret moved to Bathgate where they happily spent the last 22 years, and Tom maintained his membership of and interest in the Society.

Tom is survived by his wife Margaret, his son Fred and daughter in law, Evelyn, his grandchildren, Dale and Adele and his great grandchildren, Caelan, Lucas and Marcus.

Speaking after news of Tom’s death, HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae, commented:

“Our thoughts are with Tom’s family during this difficult time. By all accounts Tom lived a happy and fulfilling life, his early interest in the Humanist Society was maintained throughout his life and we are very grateful for the support he had given us over the years.”

Tom’s funeral will be conducted by Robert Anthony, Registered Celebrant, on Tuesday 5th July at the funeral parlour of Brodies Funeral Directors, Bathgate followed by committal at West Lothian Crematorium.


Notes: For further information or comment please contact Gary McLelland on gary@humanism.scot or 07813060713.

About HSS:
Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

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