This year we received four amazing nominations for the Gordon Ross Award, all of whom are women, so we decided to announce the nominees today to mark International Women’s Day. This annual award recognises individuals whose actions are deemed to be exceptional and in line with humanist values. Thank you to everyone who sent in nominations, the four women profiled below are all very worthy candidates and we look forward to announcing the winner later in the year!
Just before Christmas 2021 Kendal donated a kidney to a complete stranger. There was a family match but Kendal was a better match, so to give the recipient the best chance Kendal went ahead with the donation. Aside from her immediate family and a few close friends Kendal didn’t tell anyone about her plans.
Although a person can function well with one kidney there are risks should their remaining kidney become compromised in the future, and the surgery is major and not without risk. Kendal’s actions for someone she has never met (and will never meet) embodies a humanist lifestance. She decided to help another human being who is suffering because she could, and she did so without fanfare or fuss and with no expectation of anything in return.
Mary’s nomination was a testament to the many decades that Mary has spent trying to make life better for other people. When Mary was younger her family was classed as homeless and she experienced first hand the injustice of inequality and set out to change it. Mary was one of the original StreetCare Edinburgh volunteers, supporting Edinburgh’s homeless, vulnerably housed, and anyone presenting as in need on Edinburgh’s streets.
From 2018 until the pandemic hit Mary and her daughter Karen were regulars, pulling trolleys full of clothing, toiletries, and food for distribution, providing a non-judgemental listening ear and offering both practical and emotional support to some of our most vulnerable people. Mary was there every week, usually arriving early to spend the afternoon restocking the trolleys and sorting through clothing donations. She also helped to induct new volunteers, making them feel welcome and supported on their initial shadow shifts. Mary was very popular on the StreetCare rounds and got to know many of the regulars.
In 2016 Mary and her daughter drove to The Jungle refugee camp in Calais where they volunteered in the camp kitchen. Because the camp was not officially recognised (and therefore had no aid agency input) conditions were challenging and supplies were short. Once Mary returned home she hired a van and filled it to the roof with supplies, then returned to the camp to distribute the food, underwear, and toiletries she had collected. Mary volunteered at the French refugee camps four times, and was often the oldest volunteer there.
During the first wave of the pandemic Mary had to shield so spent her time making face masks. She then organised some wholesale fabric so that she and her friends could make hospital scrubs for Borders General Hospital.
A few years ago Mary responded to a plea for volunteers to teach English to refugees and asylum seekers online. Mary was paired with a young man from Iraq in his early twenties who had been living in a UN refugee camp for six years with his extended family after their village was bombed and their home destroyed. The young man was determined to better his life so he could help his family, and Mary was determined to help him. She gave him a laptop when he earned a place at university, and he recently graduated at the top of his class. Despite the fact that they have never met in person they have developed a firm connection, and when Mary was left some money when her brother sadly died, she decided to help the young man and his family rebuild their house in their village in Iraq. Mary funded all of the building materials and the family did all of the work themselves. They are now back in their home village and are rebuilding their lives in Iraq.
Mary’s innate modesty hides her determination to change the world for the better, above all for the poor and marginalised. Where some might see poverty as part of an endemic social problem, she sees the unfulfilled potential of people who, given the opportunity, can overcome disadvantage and find self-esteem.
Gillian’s nomination highlighted her warm and welcoming nature, whether that be in her work running and managing the Fife humanist group, or when she is mentoring trainee celebrants in her role as a Humanist Society Scotland celebrant. Gillian is described as a person who quietly espouses her humanist values in every aspect of her life, and who proactively looks for opportunities to help and support others. She provides volunteer support at Rachel House (part of Children’s Hospices across Scotland) and supports SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society). Her nomination describes Gillian as an open and transparent individual, incredibly caring, kind and wise, always the first to step forward and support new celebrants, as well as being an excellent example of how to provide sensitive and humanist bereavement support.
Whilst at university Lucy helped to establish the Back Off Scotland campaign and is the director of the organisation. Back Off Scotland is a national campaign to create protest buffer zones outside facilities in Scotland that offer abortions. Buffer zones are needed to combat the widespread harassment of women in Scotland entering healthcare facilities associated with pregnancy, abortion, and sexual health services. These clinics are often targeted by conservative religious groups who are opposed to abortion and who seek to change the minds of individuals seeking an abortion through misinformation, fear, and shame.
This grassroots campaign has been supported by the Society but has been driven by the vision, determination and work of volunteers like Lucy. She was successful in getting political parties to address buffer zones in their party manifestos ahead of the Scottish Parliament election last year, and she has generated significant media coverage on the issue – and in doing so has driven it up the political agenda and given a voice to women who have been harassed outside of clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services. Through their tireless campaign work Lucy and the Back Off team have achieved massive public and political support for a change in the law in a long term campaign area for humanists – freedom of choice and personal autonomy for women seeking to end pregnancy. Lucy’s approach has been consistent with the humanist values of ensuring personal autonomy and she has sought to involve Humanist Society Scotland from the very beginning of the campaign.
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