Mel Lipman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 28, 1936, and was a forty-five year resident of Las Vegas, Nevada. Raised in New York City by immigrant parents, Mel first began supporting his family at age fourteen. He was raised Jewish and didn’t question his faith until one of his own children asked if he believed in God. From that point forward, he became involved in the humanist and freethought movements, in which he remained active for the rest of his life.
Lipman was a supervising examiner for the Federal Reserve Board prior to starting a law practice in Las Vegas. He also taught constitutional law, US history, and business law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada State College, and University of Phoenix. He was a volunteer mediator and arbitrator for Clark County, Nevada, where he was also licensed as a marriage officiant, having performed hundreds of weddings over a span of thirty years. Lipman himself was married for sixty years to his loving wife, Anita, and together they raised two children, Lori and Jay.
Lipman served as the president of the American Humanist Association from 2003-2008. He was also the former president of the Humanist Association of Las Vegas, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Las Vegas, a former vice president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and a former board member of the Nevada Civil Liberties Union. At the time of his death, Lipman was a trustee and treasurer of the Humanist Foundation (which honored him with the Humanist Heritage Award in 2016), the co-chair of the Secular Coalition for Nevada, and a board member of the Las Vegas Chapter of the AHA and the Sunday Assembly of Las Vegas.
The co-existence of religion and nontheism for mutual benefit was paramount to him, and he served as a longtime board member of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada. In a New York Times letter to the editor he noted, “As long as we are all good, we can be united in our good works.”
One of Lipman’s top priorities was to change people’s attitudes about humanists, and he often utilized letters to the editor and participation in talk shows as means of voicing his advocacy for the community. “My biggest concern is to counter the propaganda from people who think that people who don’t believe in a supernatural being can’t live moral, ethical lives,” he wrote in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article.
“Mel advanced humanist thinking in many ways,” said AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, noting that Lipman was among the first to caution of the dangers of religious privileging and “how the religious right would use religious exemptions as a means to create special rights for the religious to discriminate against others.”
Following a massive stroke in February and several weeks of attempted rehab, Lipman asked to be taken off nutrition and hydration assistance and to be moved to hospice to finish his “final chapter.” His daughter, Lori Lipman Brown (a former Nevada state senator known to many humanists as the founding director of the Secular Coalition for America) noted that her father was very clear-minded and also very appreciative of the outpouring of sentiment from the community that gave so much meaning and fulfillment to his life.
My father, at eighty-two, had had a wonderful life filled with numerous accomplishments and joys. He left this note: “A good death after a good life, is like crapping out after a two-hour hand. It has to happen eventually.” I would add that about seven years ago when we discussed the prospect of death, he told me that he thought of life very much like a craps game and he was so happy to have had such a wonderful roll; whenever the end came, he was satisfied with the life he led.
Those close to Lipman remember him fondly. Lyle Simpson, past president of the AHA, former AHA legal counsel, and now-chair of the Humanist Foundation, remarked,
Let each of us consider for a moment how Mel has affected our own lives, and be thankful that he was there to share his life with us. I remember talking him into being the Foundation’s treasurer. …Every task Mel faced, he approached it humbly, and then worked hard to make it happen. He was a quiet but effective leader, from whom we all have benefited in some way. That is what our immortality as a humanist is all about, and why I want to spend these moments grateful that I knew Mel, and he was a friend I could trust.
Mel Lipman died on March 23, 2019, and is survived by his children Lori and Jay, his daughter-in-law Lisa and son-in-law Paul, and his grandchildren Bradley, Kevin, and Michael. (His wife Anita died in March 2017.) In lieu of flowers, it was his wish that friends and acquaintances remember him by doing something nice for a stranger. He also asked that if you can truly afford a cash gift, to make a memorial donation to the American Humanist Association and/or the Humanist Association of Las Vegas, or to a charity of your choice.