Ethel Wells 1916-2007
Courtesy Photo

The world has lost a remarkable woman. Ethel Wells was strong, determined, far-sighted, and persistent. She took on tough causes with unwavering commitment, including anti-smoking, peace, nuclear disarmament, strengthening international law, ending genocide, and social responsibility for scientists. She believed it is possible to change the world with dynamic strategies and unflinching honesty. Ethel was always a strategic thinker. She looked for points of leverage.

Let me give one example of her strategic thinking in action, one that gave her great satisfaction. In the mid 1980s, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation coordinated an International Week for Science and Peace. Ethel reasoned that scientists were at the heart of creating constructive or destructive technologies, so she decided the foundation should offer a prize for the best proposal using science for constructive rather than destructive purposes. We received proposals from throughout the world competing for the $50,000 prize Ethel contributed.

The winning proposal came from the Hungarian Engineers for Peace. It was a proposal to create an International Network of Engineers for Peace that would link engineers working for peace globally. A short time later, the Hungarian Engineers joined with a group of like-minded scientists and established the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility. Due to Ethel’s continued support and stewardship, that organization continues to thrive, working internationally for disarmament, sustainability, and high ethical standards in science.

Ethel often wrote short and pointed letters to the editor, which she sent to major newspapers throughout the country. Her letters offered solid perspectives on critical issues related to peace, international law, and other areas. Here are a few excerpts:

February 26, 2004: “The rule of international law must be the basis for the settling of differences between the sovereignties of the world in order to have global stability and world peace.”

September 7, 2004: “The existence of weapons of mass destruction has outlawed war forever, because global genocide is not an option.”

April 26, 2006: “We need to have an International Law Enforcement Corps under the UN to promptly stop the act of genocide on an emergency basis.”

In a letter to me, dated May 13, 2004, Ethel wrote: “Nuclear weapons are weapons of continual annihilation and total insanity.” Ethel believed that peace was the result of turning the negatives of despair, hate, prejudice, vengeance, and destructive thought into hope, love, understanding, forgiveness, and constructive thought.

Ethel played a very important role in the work of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and in my life. When difficult issues arose, she was a person I went to for advice. Her support has been at the heart of any success we have had in speaking and acting for peace and a world free of nuclear arms. I treasure my memories of Ethel and hold them dear in my heart.

Ethel made a difference in the world because she chose to make a difference. In addition to her work with us, she was deeply and passionately involved in the work of an organization called Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) to protect nonsmokers’ rights. Her choices inspire me. I know they have inspired many others. In the daily work of ASH, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, her spirit will live on. It is a great spirit, as she was a great woman.


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