George Willoughby, crew member on the Golden Rule, and founder of Peace Brigades International

Published by Brent Patterson on

George Willoughby was one of the signatories of a letter dated January 12, 1981 that invited people to gather to form an organization that would become Peace Brigades International at its founding meeting in September 1981.

He was the one who recommended that JoLeigh Commandant become the first director of PBI’s Central America Project in 1982.

And George attended the PBI General Assembly north of Toronto, Ontario in June 1992 that approved the first Principles and Mandate statement for the organization.

George Wilson Willoughby was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming on December 9, 1914. He married his life partner in activism Lillian on July 19, 1940.

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection notes, “When he was drafted, he was granted conscientious objector status, and opted to enter alternative service. He arrived at Trenton Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp (North Dakota) in January 1944, where he worked as a land surveyor and then as the camp dietician.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer adds, “Mr. Willoughby became a household name for area Quakers after he became director of the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors in Philadelphia in 1954. He soon was a frequent presence in the news, mostly under headlines with the words peace, marchers, and protest.”

In 1958, when Willoughby was 43 years old, he and three others sailed the Golden Rule 4,000 miles out onto the South Pacific to put themselves in between the United States Navy and its testing of atomic weapons. The crew of that boat was arrested 5 nautical miles from Honolulu and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

That nonviolent action inspired similar actions by members of the Vancouver-based Don’t Make a Wave Committee (which later became Greenpeace in 1971) and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (founded by Canadian Paul Watson in Vancouver in 1977).

To see a 90-second trailer for a film about the restoration of that sailboat by Veterans For Peace, please click here. The full 24-minute film can be seen here.

David H. Albert and Aliyah Shanti have highlighted, “[George] walked through the United States and then to Russia in 1959 to protest against nuclear weapons. The Russian government was not fond of him either, as he insisted on handing out peace literature in the streets of Moscow. He was on the Delhi to Peking Peace March in 1962. He refused to pay taxes that went for war and preparations for war.”

George’s friend Martin Kelley also notes, “Lillian was concerned about rising violence against women and started one of the first Take Back the Night marches.”

Kelley adds, “If you’ve ever sat in an activist meeting where everyone’s using consensus, then you’ve been influenced by the Willoughby’s!”

Swarthmore also notes, “Lillian was a tax resister, and she and George attempted to live frugally in order to keep below taxable income rates.”

“From 1971 to 1987 the Willoughbys lived communally with others in West Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), in an effort to share resources, learn and teach nonviolence skills, and work together for the good of their neighborhood.”

“When the U.S. declared war on Iraq after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Lillian became fearlessly outspoken for peace.”

“In 2003, she and other demonstrators had their heads shaved outside the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia; their intention was to send the shorn hair to senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to express their opposition to the war.”

“In 2004, Lillian and other activists spent seven days in the federal detention center in Philadelphia for blocking the entrance to the Federal Building in a protest against the Iraq war. They chose jail over $250 fines.”

It has also been noted that, “In 2006, she and other older activists, including the poet Sonia Sanchez were charged with defiant trespass for refusing to leave a Center City military recruiting station after trying to enlist to serve in Iraq. A judge dismissed the charges. They called themselves the Granny Peace Brigade.”

Lillian died on January 15, 2009, George less than a year later on January 5, 2010.

Top photo: George in a white t-shirt on the Golden Rule that sailed 4,000 miles on the Pacific Ocean to interpose itself against the US Navy testing atomic weapons.

Below, photos of George Willoughby and Steve Kaal at Camp NeeKauNis (about 130 kilometres north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada) where a General Assembly first adopted PBI’s Principles and Mandate statement in June 1992.

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