In Memoriam: Warren Allen Smith

FFRF member Warren Allen Smith, a teacher, editor, businessman and author, died on Jan. 8, 2017, of happiness.

That’s how Warren’s self-penned obituary began. If true, not a bad way to go.

He was born Oct. 29, 1921, in Minburn, Iowa, and graduated from Iowa State Teachers College with a B.A. in English in 1948, and received his M.A. in American Literature from Columbia University in 1949. During his time in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, Smith was known as “the atheist in a foxhole,” according to his website. “Were there atheists in foxholes during World War II? Of course, as can be verified by my dogtags . . . A veteran of Omaha Beach in 1944, I insisted upon including ‘None’ instead of P, C, or J as my religious affiliation.”

He worked as a high school English teacher from 1949 to 1986. In 1961, Smith co-founded Variety Recording Studio. He lived with his partner of 40 years, Fernando Vargas, an atheist, until Vargas’ death from AIDS in 1989.

Smith’s fame was largely due to his journalism, which often focused on humanist issues. He was book review editor for The Humanist from 1953 to 1958 and wrote the column “Humanist Potpourri” for Free Inquiry from 1997 to 1998, as well as writing columns for Gay and Lesbian Humanist, The Freethinker, The American Rationalist and Skeptical Inquirer. He wrote the books Who’s Who in Hell, a 1,264-page biographical listing of over 10,000 philosophic non-believers (2000), and Celebrities in Hell (2002), which are extensive compilations of famous freethinkers. Smith’s other books include Gossip from Across the Pond (2005) and In the Heart of Showbiz (2011).

Smith was the personal agent to Gilbert Price, a three-time Tony Award nominee, from 1963 until Price’s death in 1989.

In college, Smith rejected his Methodist upbringing and became an outspoken humanist and freethinker. In an article for The New York Observer on Aug. 14, 2000, Smith wrote: “If you’re the member of an organized church group, you really have to have a guilt complex. You have to feel guilty about not loving God enough or not contributing enough money or not contributing enough to society.” He describes himself as a “humanistic naturalist.” In 1948, he formed the first college humanist club in the United States.

Smith’s other accomplishments include being vice president of The Bertrand Russell Society from 1977 to 1980, serving as treasurer of the Secular Humanist Society of New York from 1988 to 1993 and co-founding Agnostics, Atheists and Secular Humanists Who Are Infected/Affected with AIDS/HIV Illness in 1992 (although Smith himself was not HIV positive). He created Philosopedia, an online reference of philosophers and atheists that has received more than 6 million page views.

Smith was an activist member of ACT UP (and participated in the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969); Freethinkers NY (a co-founder); Mensa (1964 until his death); the New York Society of Ethical Culture; the Rationalist Press Association (United Kingdom); and the Unitarian Society.

Freedom From Religion Foundation