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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Griffith Vaughan Williams, 1940–2010

Griffith Vaughan Williams,
who has died aged 70

We're sad to announce that one of the gay movement’s greatest friends, Griffith Vaughan Williams, has died. He was 70. Williams was lately secretary of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, one of Britain’s oldest gay campaigning organisations, and he was one of its longest-standing supporters.

Let’s let CHE itself have the first word. In a statement today, it says:

It’s with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Griffith Vaughan Williams, Secretary of CHE. He was 70 years old. Our condolences to his partner, Paul.

Griff was born on the 9th of November 1940 in Bangor, North Wales, and was educated at a local grammar school and then at a college of journalism in Cardiff. He worked for a number of magazines and provincial newspapers around the country, and later in the press office at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which he left about 20 years ago to become a freelance journalist. After retirement he threw himself into many voluntary causes, serving on committees, attending conferences, and forever asking questions at company meetings.

Griff had been a gay activist since about 1964, and was a leading member of CHE from its very earliest days. In recent years, despite ill-health, he had continued to be the driving force behind many of CHE’s activities. He will be very much missed. His final act as Secretary was to sign the contract commissioning a new book about the history of CHE, a history which he had very much helped to make.

We hope to compile a fitting obituary for Griff, and we would very much welcome any memories and thoughts about him. The CHE reunion at Friends House on the 27th of this month will include a tribute to Griff.

Fellow blogger George Broadhead, secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust, said today of Griff: “He was best know in CHE’s heyday as its conference organiser and was mainly responsible for keeping it going when it declined some years ago.

“I had been friendly with Griff since I joined CHE in the 1960s and, with my partner Roy, set up one of its local groups – Chilterns CHE – in 1970. I’ve been in touch with him many times since then, notably concerned the cooperation of CHE and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in running the winter fairs at Conway Hall in the 1980s and their joint sponsorship of Winter Pride at County Hall and ULU later in that decade. This is described by Griff in detail in the book Out of the Shadows, which will be promoted at the CHE Reunion on 27 November.”

On a personal note, I’d known Griff on and off since 1978 when he did a recce in Coventry, where I lived at the time, in preparation for holding the CHE conference at the De Vere Hotel there. His beard was sort of brownish then.

I worked for a while on the CHE exec with Griff in the late seventies, and met up with him at various functions. Lately, it’s been only voice contact, because I’ve had some input into the CHE annual report and its review of the year.

With telephone contact, you could put the phone at one end of the room and listen from the other side, I remember, so clear (not to say loud) was his delivery. He was also annoyingly (though I say that with affection) averse to modern communications, never, as far as I know, embracing the Internet and email; and getting copy from him for any work I did on the CHE reports necessitated his having to pass it on to someone with a computer, who could then type it up and send it on via email. I think he relied on his trusty fax machine for several years, that being as technological as he got (unless he changed in the past year and I didn’t know).

When someone has been ill, it should come as little surprise that they might die, but it still has the power to shock. As soon as I saw the subject line of an email from George Broadhead this morning – just “Griff Vaughan Williams” – I guessed. When someone has died, that’s all you usually see at the top of an email that brings the sad news. If an email has just a person’s name in that line, I fear the worst.

GVW was indefatigable in his efforts for the gay cause, and was, of course, involved with CHE for decades. He put in hard work and sustained commitment to the cause of gay rights for many years. I’m sure there will be tributes aplenty over the next few days, because there can’t be many in the gay community more worthy of such praise.

Griff was a hard worker, a good organiser, a committed campaigner. He’ll be sorely missed.

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