Fans of “The Man Who Can”—Honoring Pat McCann in Connecticut

On the morning of December 10, UnitedCoR’s Twitter (@UnitedCoR) was buzzing with news that Pat McCann—former co-coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition of Reason—had been given the 2017 Activist of the Year award from American Atheists.  It was presented to him by AA State Director Dennis Paul Himes, who incidentally was named AA 2017 State Director of the Year.

McCann (left) receives his award from Dennis Paul Himes (right).

As the immediate past president of the Hartford Area Humanists, the former co-chair of the Connecticut Coalition of Reason, the current chair of the Secular Coalition for Connecticut (SCCT), and recently the assistant state director (Connecticut) for American Atheists, McCann’s activism within Connecticut is well known and highly respected. I wrote to some of his family members and friends to learn more about what McCann’s done that has made a difference to grassroots secular groups.

Tanya Barrett of the Connecticut Valley Atheists said,

(McCann (center) with other members of the Hartford Area Humanists.

Pat has been a huge part of the atheist movement in Connecticut, and he is one of the main reasons that the Connecticut CoR profile has risen within our state legislature and government. He is certainly a religious activist’s worst nightmare: he’s smart, well-spoken, never gets mad, and he never gives up. His creativity and professionalism shine through in every project he undertakes, from organizing conferences and lobby days to working on a state Darwin Day proclamation. Pat and Elisabeth are also some of the most gracious hosts, making new and long-term members feel welcome at every event they attend. It is an honor to work with him in the atheist movement, and he is incredibly deserving of the Connecticut Activist of the Year award from American Atheists.

John Levin, whose work with the Secular Coalition for Connecticut brings him in contact with elected officials across the state, complimented McCann’s support for secular values and political activism.

Pat has been completely indefatigable as our leader in Connecticut.  He shows up at our annual Darwin Day dinners, kicks ass on the science quizzes, asks the best questions of the Yale professor speakers, films the entire event, then, with Elisabeth, drives the 500 miles back to his home in northern Connecticut (so I overestimated it a bit…), and still makes it to church the next morning (just a joke)! Or is it Sunday morning Dojo? Whatever. Yes, Pat McCann—he is both the tusks and the testicles of the mighty elephant that is the secular movement in Connecticut.

Members of the Connecticut Valley Atheists brave the snow to erect their “Keep America Secular” winter display next to a crèche on public property in Vernon, CT.

Of all the people in Connecticut, the one who knows McCann best is his partner and the love of his life—Elisabeth Brown, who recalled some of his achievements:

When Pat found out that Professor Richard Dawkins was coming to the Bushnell in Hartford this November, he reached out to Robyn Blumner (CEO of Center for Inquiry/Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science) to see if they needed volunteers for the event.  Eight of us from Connecticut CoR volunteered to host a table for the Center for Inquiry and were allowed to include information for both Connecticut CoR and the Secular Coalition for Connecticut.

In March of 2017, Pat organized the Connecticut Secular Advocacy Day at the state capitol and spent an extraordinary amount of his time and personal money on this event. This was a lobbying event for the three key pieces of legislation that our organizations are trying to get passed in Connecticut. Amanda Knief (former national legal and public policy director of American Atheists) came to train our citizen lobbyists.

In May of 2017, Pat was able to secure a face-to-face meeting with Governor Dannel P. Malloy to introduce him to members of Connecticut’s vast secular community, to familiarize him with the legislation we are trying to get passed, and to ask him to sign a Darwin Day Proclamation. Pat drafted a secular briefing document for this meeting, which the Secular Coalition for America is going to use as a model document for similar meetings throughout the country.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy (center) met with members of the Secular Coalition for Connecticut.

In the fall of 2016 when Pat learned that the Bushnell Theater was hosting an event called “Religion in America” hosted by the CT Forum and they did not have a nonreligious person on the panel, he contacted them immediately and gave them facts and numbers about the secular community and suggested that they include a nonreligious person—which they did!  Not only that, but we were also allowed to table at the event on behalf of the Connecticut CoR and SCCT.  Over two thousand people attended this event, which may have been the first time some sat and listened respectfully to atheist viewpoints in this kind of forum. Just a couple of months previously, Pat also organized a protest against Franklin Graham’s visit to Hartford, for which UnitedCoR people from Washington, DC, came to join us with our protest.

Not everyone rolled-out the red carpet when Franklin Graham came to town.

Pat and I recently met a woman who is trying to get a MeetUp group started. She is a burn victim who is courageously working to overcome some severe disabilities and is unable to get out to attend events/meetings. After meeting her, Pat and I began to brainstorm how we could help her connect with others in Connecticut’s secular communities. We came up with the brilliant idea of contacting UnitedCoR’s Jase Heap or help with this. Pat will be doing an interview with her early next year (after she has a risky surgical procedure) and will be trying to help her set up a virtual atheist group for those who are handicapped, shut-in, agoraphobic, or otherwise isolated; we don’t want anyone to feel as if they are alone, regardless of physical challenges.

Winter Solstice/Human Light celebration

Pat also likes to see like-minded people make connections and develop stronger ties together. For the past five years we’ve hosted a winter solstice/HumanLight open house in our home to bring secular members of the various Connecticut CoR cooperating groups together to socialize, celebrate, and collect well-needed donations for the Connecticut Food Bank. Every year, Pat also donates generously to local, state and nation secular charities. Lastly, he was an organizer for two secular conferences: SANE in 2013 and CARE (Connecticut Assembly for Reason and Ethics) in 2016.

Knowing how much Pat McCann has done for many secular communities across Connecticut, it’s no wonder that his friends and family hold him in such high regard. UnitedCoR wishes to extend special congratulations to Pat for his recent award and recognition and we’re looking forward to receiving great news of secular outreach and achievement there in Connecticut.