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David Bothwell obituary: 'A very good life which has touched many'

Humanistically Speaking was very sad to hear of the death of David Bothwell, one of the founders, in 1993, of South Hants Humanists based in Southampton. David had a degree in theology and considered ordination, but he discovered humanism and became a humanist celebrant. In his online memoirs he notes that South Hants Humanists reached peak publicity when he became humanist 'chaplain' to the elected Mayor.

David's early life was influenced particularly by two lively Montessori-trained spinsters who fostered him following a toddler bout of pneumonia when he was two years old. From the age of six, he attended the Quaker school Leighton Park in Reading, England. Although he claimed to be not especially academic, he was taught to think for himself and allowed to develop wide interests, photography and music particularly, and sports, that carried on throughout his life. Academic or not, he ended up at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1943 studying maths and engineering, subjects which excluded him from National Service. But once his interest and study switched to theology he had to join up, and he took up the option of being a Bevin Boy (young British men conscripted to work in coal mines between December 1943 and March 1948, to increase the rate of coal production). For two years he worked at the coal face, deep and dangerously in a South Wales pit, soon accepted and influenced profoundly by his fellow miners. Developing an elbow injury, he was drafted into the RAF and to India. Stationed near Bombay (now Mumbai) he experienced the chaos of British troops being repatriated to the UK post war, and all the drama of India finally becoming independent. Back to a different post war Cambridge after 4 years, he completed his theology degree and considered ordination and launching a second Reformation. He was persuaded this was unrealistic and opted for teaching!

For the next twenty years he taught with pleasure and success in two English schools, Haberdashers and Abbotsholme, split by ten years teaching in the Sudan. Returning to England to keep the family together rather than leave the children in boarding schools, as did many expats, he worked as Maths adviser for Southampton schools and then moved to Winchester as Senior Advisory Officer for Secondary Education.

Throughout this time there was Anne, whom he married in 1951, his best friend for seven decades, with whom he shared the adventures of life in Africa, a growing family, a love of music and travel. His non-theism had gradually evolved into Humanism over the years and after retirement he became a prison visitor, a Humanist Celebrant and with a few others founded South Hampshire Humanists in 1993. He remained very active in the group until almost the end.

In the last few years David’s health has not been great and there was frustration at not being able to express himself verbally. But he remained busy, on the computer, building models, always pleased to be with family and friends. A very good life which has touched many.

David's final words

'I am not afraid of dying. What, sadly, I shall miss is the knowledge of how Anne and my family will fare, and the state of the world say in 2050 and beyond, let alone the end of the century.'

David died peacefully in Southampton on 29 June 2023, aged 98. Beloved husband of Anne, father of Keith, Simon and Christine, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Further information

You can read more about David's life here

With thanks to South Hants Humanists for permission to publish these details.

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