A dear friend Michael Schofield, the researcher and campaigner, died on Thursday 27th March, aged 94.
This “Tribute to Michael” was presented at Golders Green Crematorium on Tuesday 15h April by Ken
For the service, Click here The service
I first met Michael in 1967 as a young student wanting to research into the impact of the decriminalization of homosexuality. He was extraordinarily encouraging and we have remained life long friends. I am saddened by his death and feel a loss. But dying is also I think quite a lot about remembering.
I am helped in this with a poem from the 1960’s Liverpool poet Brian Patten:
How long is a man’s life, finally?
Is it a thousand days, or only one?
One week, or a few centuries?
How long does a man’s death last?
And what do we mean when we say, “gone forever’?
We fret, and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple.
A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.
How long does a man live after all? A man lives so many different lengths of time.
Today, I want to share briefly five memories of Michael that I will carry with me.. and which will help keep him alive…
I will remember Michael as a brave man, as a compassionate man with a fine sense of justice, as a caring and generous man, as a modest man and finally as a progressive humanist who wanted to make the world a better place for the next generation.
First, the memory of his bravery.
Here he was back in the 1940’s privately experiencing his own personal pains of being gay in a culture where it was condemned as a crime – as a sin, sickness, and sadness……. And what does he do about it? He writes a book, goes public and champions it. This is what he writes in 1952……
“We might question whether the social stigma attached to homosexuality does not actually do more harm than good. We should recognize that we will not even start to find a solution until we sweep away the prudish silence and superstitious prejudices that surround the subject. The problem of homosexuality must be brought out into the open where it can be discussed and reconsidered. That is the object of this book.”
And he pursued this challenge himself with great vigour over the next three decades
And here is my next memory of Michael: of his compassion and sense of justice. Having fought the battles for homosexual reform he moved on to wider social issues. He became involved with the NCCL (now Liberty) and became a campaigner of unpopular causes. Michael would research tricky topics: sex amongst young people, promiscuity, contraception and birth control, drugs. And then he would be seen engaging in debates on television, in the press, in the courts acting as a public intellectual – busy championing the then very difficult issues of censorship, single mothers, free contraception, drug reform, pornography, abortion law change, sex education and human rights. Often his opponent was Mary Whitehouse. In many ways he was a key campaigner for the swinging sixties -and seventies.
My third memory of Michael is that of generous and kind man. He used much of his inheritance to establishing a charity – The Lyndhurst Settlement – devoted to giving small sums to causes that were struggling to survive and for whom a little money meant a lot. Between 1968 and 2005 he gave over three million pounds to an array of marginal causes: £1,000 to a prisoners charity here; 2,000 to an environmental cause there; or perhaps £3,000 to an asylum and refugee charity … and on. Small amounts to small charities that could really make a difference. When AIDS arrived in 1981, Michael was amongst the first to back, for example The Terrence Higgins Trust – now the major government body but then a small struggling newcomer.
But if Michael was generous publicly he was also generous to his friends. Possibly quite a few of us here may have been at one of his birthday treats: the trip on the Concorde, the visit to Bilbao, the meals at the Café Paris and Lloyds. Not to mention the 90th birthday celebration at Bentleys, the fish restaurant where Michael had ordered steaks for all his 50 guests!
My fourth memory though belies a lot of the above. For he was a shy, modest gentle man. At parties, he hated dressing up and would go to some of these events in his slippers! While he could be argumentative and passionate, he was also gentle and sensitive in his way of dealing with people. He treated people well.
Finally, I will remember Michael as an inspirational progressive humanist – as someone who quietly wanted to make the world a better place for all. He believed in the importance of education, in research, in opening people’s minds.
I asked Michael several times in his life if he was pleased with what he had achieved.
When he retired he was not at all pleased- it was the time of Thatcherism and he thought little had changed, the clocks were going back, and was saddened. But when I asked him just a few years ago- after thirty years of a good retirement and a dear loving relationship with his life companion Antony – he told a different story. I quote him:
I am pleased about almost everything. The world has got a much better place. It is to do with tolerance…and tolerance is helped by people being told the real situation. And to that extent, people’s books do help. We are very lucky. I see myself as a nagging little insect biting other people. I had not a measurable role, but the fact that I was there and writing brought it to the attention of other people
I will nurture and develop my fond memories of Michael over the years to come.
15th April 2014