Harold Williams: 193?-2011

Inspector Harold Williams

I woke this morning to find that a friend of mine, Harold Williams, passed away from leukemia last night. I had only known Harold for a few months, but communicated with him regularly through email. Through our entirely too brief series of exchanges, I developed incredible respect for what I considered to be a kindred spirit, one of only a few on this planet.

I first met Harold on my last trip to Malawi. I was shooting footage for a documentary project of mine on atheism in Malawi, as was referred to him as a member of the Malawi Association of Secular Humanists. In fact, he was the vice president of this very small but vocal group. I went to meet him at the Blantyre Sun Bird Hotel on a Monday afternoon. Not knowing what he looked like, I entered the courtyard looking for a Malawian. Instead, a middle aged white man called me over and introduced himself as Harold Williams.

Harold first went to Malawi in the 1950’s to work as a policeman for the Colonial government in Zomba. He instantly fell in love with the country (as everyone does). He met and married a Malawian woman, and signed on to stay after Malawi attained independence in 1963. I asked him why he stayed where many went back to England. He wished to help Malawi create a viable, independent government and help create a brighter future for this struggling country.

Harold's wedding photo

Harold eventually attained Malawian citizenship, raised children in Malawi, and created a life for himself in Malawi. He led a life very integrated with the people around him, spoke the language(s) fluently, and became one of Malawi’s most active and vocal advocates. Harold’s citizenship and dedication to Malawi called the very idea of what it is to be a “Malawian” into question, and larger ideas of “citizenship” that all states in the 21st century must face. Harold would enthusiastically discuss these broad but important questions in a manner usually reserved for sequestered academics.

Harold was deeply involved in the political life of Malawi. He participated actively in demonstrations, once even leading a protest against President Muluzi’s efforts to remain in office beyond the number of terms allotted to him in the Constitution, and found himself strong-armed by members of the Malawian military. Harold worked tirelessly for the right of free speech and protest in Malawi, which faces the same sorts of questions of protest and democracy that have recently been the focus of news reports on Egypt, Iran and Libya. Malawi’s small size and lack of resources keep it out of the world news, but its political concerns are really no different nor any less important than that of other, larger states.

Harold resisting arrest during a 2003 demonstration

Harold ran the Malawi Concern Blog, which publicly addressed the problems of the present administration under Bingu, found himself on a watch list of potential political enemies, and even had his blog blocked and suppressed recently. Harold was a vocal critic of Bingu’s Presidency, and regularly called him out on his habit of playing ethnic politics with Malawi, wide human rights abuses and his unapologetic flouting of Malawi’s secular Constitution.

Of course, Harold’s role as an advocate of secular humanism and secular government cannot be forgotten. Harold was an avowed secularist, and perceived fanatical religious belief to be a threat to the peace and welfare of Malawi. Particularly, he fought alongside other Malawi secular humanists to provide advocacy for persons accused of witchcraft related crimes and the economy surrounding it, battled the inclusion of Christianity into government policy, and publicly resisted the widespread and dangerous phenomena of religious opportunists in Malawi. Among other activities, Harold ran the official blog for the group.

Harold was a great guy. If I end up being half the person that Harold was by the time I am his age, I will consider this a life worth having lived. In writing this short, pseudo-obit, I feel as though I am leaving much out, but I think this speaks loads to what kind of person Harold was as a political activist, a human rights advocate and as a human being.

I miss Harold and am so very sorry that I will never have the opportunity to meet him again.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

7 responses to “Harold Williams: 193?-2011”

  1. Mark Maynard says :

    Sounds like a great guy. I’m glad that you had an opportunity to meet him.

  2. dawn williams says :

    He was a fantastic man and I am proud to say that I am his daughter. I have been given the tools nad the confidence to use them to be able to carry on where he left off, on the other side of the world and in a different context.
    I hope that I can pass on his strength and wisdom to my children and the people I come in contact with on a daily basis.
    Thank you for your great article.

  3. Pete Larson says :


    I feel very honored that I had the opportunity to meet your father but very sad that our acquaintance was so brief. He was a great man. You are truly fortunate to have had Harold for a father.



  4. K C Williams says :

    Pete, please get back in touch with me. I am one of the late Harold Williams clan. I am on Facebook as Karen Williams . Happy New Year 2017 to you.

  5. K C Williams says :

    I am extremely proud of my Dad. He was always there for me. My daughter has his character built in her. She was one of my late Dad’s favorite granddaughter. He had also met my son Aidan,when he wad,12months, old

  6. K C Williams says :

    Peter, please send me a friend request on FACEBOOK. I have been listening to your songs on “YouTube”!

  7. Ron Williams says :

    Hi Peter. I am very proud to say that Harold was my brother. It was interesting to chart his development over the years and was delighted that we ended up on the same page in relation to most things. I also am a secular humanist, a member of the Isle of Man Freethinkers. I did not realise this obituary was available till yesterday when my partner googled his name pursuing another line of enquiry. May I say I think you’ve done a great job in summing up his life but, obviously, didn’t know his earlier history. For example, aged 12 (!), he went off to a seminary to join the priesthood and was away for two and a half years! He also never got accepted into university but, like you, I think he had a wonderful mind and was a deep, deep thinker. However, for Malawi, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because he wouldn’t have ended up there otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: