Thanks for reading; it has been an honor | Tampa Bay Times


Sometimes our lives take an unexpected turn. It happened to me in 1994, when I was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on a swing through St. Petersburg visiting newspaper editorial boards. That's when Phil Gailey had an idea.

Phil was the courtly editor of editorials at the then-named St. Petersburg Times, and his idea was downright audacious: I should leave the ACLU and come to work for the newspaper's opinion pages. • Never mind that I didn't have a degree in journalism or any daily newspaper experience. Never mind that he didn't know whether I could write my way out of a compound sentence. Phil wanted to add my voice and legal expertise to the editorial board. • The offer was tempting, but I resisted. I loved working for the ACLU, spending my days (and nights and weekends) promoting civil liberties and social justice. Before working for the organization full time I had volunteered as a law clerk for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project at its national offices in Manhattan. It was in my blood.

Urged on by my (future) husband, I offered an alternative. I'd stay with the ACLU but write a column every other week for the Sunday Perspective section. Then Phil could evaluate my writing and I could experience life as a journalist, at least part time.

Three years later, I was hooked and came onboard as a full-time columnist and editorial writer.

During the last 16 years, this most unexpected of writing careers has been a remarkable journey, taking me to the home of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg and to the Riyadh palace of then-Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It has allowed me to work alongside talented opinion and news journalists at this newspaper and with dozens of colleagues from newspapers around the country.

Now, after national syndication, more than 800 columns and thousands of editorials, I am leaving the Tampa Bay Times to return to my roots in progressive advocacy and nonprofit administration. I have been named executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in Washington.

If you've never heard of Richard Dawkins, he is an Oxford evolutionary biologist and best-selling author of numerous books. Prospect magazine named him the number one "World Thinker" in 2013. In the mold of astronomer Carl Sagan, Dawkins has a remarkable talent for translating complex scientific concepts for the lay person.

Dawkins has also built a major public following for his articulate defense of atheism and rejection of the supernatural. In 2006, he wrote, The God Delusion, which catapulted him into the spotlight as a leading scientific voice for nontheism.

His foundation promotes scientific literacy and evidence-based thinking about the natural world. It fights religious extremism, particularly when it encroaches on public policy and education (issues such as Intelligent Design, stem cell research, etc.)

Taking a page from the LGBT playbook, the foundation also seeks to reduce the social stigma surrounding atheists, agnostics and other secularists by urging nonbelievers to "come out of the closet."

There is an axiom in American politics, real or perceived, that it's nearly impossible to get elected as a nontheist. Astoundingly, of 535 members of Congress, there are no "out" atheists, although atheists make up a larger proportion of the U.S. population than Jews or Muslims. This political exclusion needs to change, and it will if atheists would stand up and be counted…Continue reading.  

Follow Robyn on Twitter @RBlumner

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  1. As a Tampa Bay area resident I have been reading Robyn for years. As you might expect she’s a logical, well reasoned, clear headed critical thinker. I applaud her career change/promotion to the Executive Directorship of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in Washington. She will serve that post well. Congratulations, Robyn!

  2. Our venerable Richard, PBUH, is still as sharp as ever, but it’s good to see the next generation of secularists at RDFRS taking shape. Robyn seems to be a great addition to the effort. Welcome, Robyn!**

    **So we have two scientists (RD and Elizabeth Cornwell) and two lawyers (Sean Faircloth and now Robyn) at the helm. Looking good; looking good.

  3. Robyn sounds well qualified for this job and I hope she enjoys it and our company, but can anyone tell me why there is suddenly such a high turnover in executive directors? I think this is our third in the space of a year, and I can find no article on the site that would account for it. Are we burning good people out so quickly?

    • In reply to #12 by RDfan:

      Robyn’s article “I’m an Atheist — so what?” is remarkable not only for its clear-headedness, but also because it was written in 2004!*

      *FWIW, The God Delusion was published in 2006.

      Thanks for the link RDfan, if only to confirm that Robyn writes with a clear, understated, simple style. Nice to see amongst all the hyperbole of everyday reporting.

  4. Welcome aboard the RDFRS Robyn.

    I’m one of the laypersons you speak of, and I’ve learnt a great deal by visiting this forum since 2007, as well as leap frogging on from it to other centres of learning such as the James Randi Foundation.

    And not only centres of learning but centres of laughing too; there are lots of hugely entertaining videos like Mr Deity, as well as archive material of outstanding individuals such as Richard Feynman.

    The RDFRS makes learning fun!

  5. Bravo, Robyn. A lovely clear exposition for your former readers. Many I’m sure will follow you.

    It will be great to have more female voices here and the legal/ACLU background will fill a real need. A warm welcome from me too.

  6. Robin–

    As a long time reader of, and occasional commenter on, your columns, in the “St Petersburg Times” (now called the “Tampa Bay Times”), please know you will be greatly missed. I understand the paper is changing, but having lost Troxler, and now you–my words simply cannot express how I feel at this point.

    I wish you the best in your new position, which is richly deserved. And I have marked this website, in my “Favorites”, to hopefully see more of your excellent critical and insightful writing in the future. I am not sure the Times will ever find an adequate replacement.

    M. Diane Hodson, 30-Year Resident of St. Petersburg, Florida.

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