Remembering Andrew Blane, a Greenwich Villager who earned Nobel Peace Prize

Andrew with his dear friend, the Nobel prize winning Joseph Brodsky, clowning around at Morton Street where he became a longtime tenant. (Photo: Sharon Woolums)

BY SHARON WOOLUMS | The memorial for Andrew Quarles Blane, who died on Sept. 6 at the age of 90, was held on Oct. 6 at Grace Church. A Greenwich Villager since 1965, Andrew quintessentially represented all the best of the Village then and now.

Best known for his contribution to Amnesty International (AI), which he joined in 1969, Andrew was one of nine delegates to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for Amnesty in 1977.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, spoke of Andrews’ deep sense of justice, humanity and empathy leading to his contributions for the Human Rights Movement — for the release of Prisoners of Conscience, the abolition of torture and the death penalty.

Andrew was elected vice chair of the International Executive Committee (IEC) by the International General Assembly from 1979-1985. Known for his patience, warmth, kindness, generosity and humor, Andrew mentored many young activists.

Egeland characterized Andrew as politically liberal and a progressive, but a traditionalist in lifestyle.

Nate Schenkkan, director of Special Research at Freedom House, spoke of Andrew’s involvement at the U.N. Convention against Torture and his reaction to Abu Ghraib: “Torture to him was…an assault on their soul,” Schenkkan said.

Saga Blane spoke of her father’s steadfast moral compass, his pure and incorruptible heart, and his idealism which left all who came in contact with feeling seen and valued.

“His perfectionism caused him to anoint himself ‘Sir Meticulous Ridiculous,'” Saga said. “His stories had the flavor of a far off and impossibly innocent time — in the 1930s, as a child in Guatemala. He had played ping pong against Tarzan’s Cheetah (the chimpanzee)!”

Andrew spent his childhood in Guatemala. His family moved back to their home state of Kentucky, where he graduated from Centre College.

In 1950, he enrolled in Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Billed as a “dynamic lay evangelist” Andrew traveled the South speaking to gatherings of students. He earned a masters degree’s in divinity at Cambridge University in 1957 and a doctorate in Russian history from Duke University.

While studying at Harvard, Andrew got to know Father Georges Florovsky, the Russian Eastern Orthodox ecumenical theologian eminent in the World Council of Churches.

Andrew’s comprehensive biography came out in 1993. He taught Russian history at the City University of New York until his retirement.

David Hawk, former executive director of AI USA in 1974, commented, “Andrew was an enormously gentle but profound intellect and committed advocate.”

Out of Morton Street came the birthplace of Amnesty’s U.N. office and the Artist for Amnesty Project. With Southern charm, Andrew opened his pull-out couch welcoming traveling asylum seekers, dissidents and friends.

Many spoke of the privilege having known him and having benefited from his friendship, generosity, and kindness, and fortunately I was one of them. We all know our world is a better place for his contributions, his insight, his love of humanity and God.

Andrew is survived by his wife of 36 years, Dr. Jaana Rehnstrom, their children, Eliot Blane of Manhattan, Saga Blane/Jake Jeppson of Brooklyn and grandson, Finn Blane Jeppson.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the newly-formed Andrew Blane Memorial Fund for Human Rights Defenders at andrewblane.com.

8 Responses to Remembering Andrew Blane, a Greenwich Villager who earned Nobel Peace Prize

  1. An amazing life well lived. His contributions to humanity, and to the cause of universal peace and justice, are more important now than ever. And a wonderful obit by my friend Sharon Woolums…who has always spoken so highly of her friend Andrew Blane.

  2. We met at the Watch Party, Sharon. Thank you for writing this and writing so well–I enjoyed reading about Andrew’s life and deeds. As a relatively recent “active” AI member (I’d been contributing for years) I did not know about him though knew about Amnesty’s Nobel prize.
    I’ve asked that your article be posted on my AI group’s FB page.
    JAL

    • Thank you Judith and thanks for posting on the AI page. Andrew devoted his life to the cause and so much more I could not mention in 500 words..buta personal note about this wonderful man: I was so lucky…I moved to ‘Sin City’ and met a saint!

    • Thank you Judith, nice to know that there are still people joining the AI tribe!
      Jaana

  3. There are no chimpanzees in Guatemala (except perhaps in the zoo), so I am not quite sure what is meant here.

  4. Thank you Sharon for this well-written remembrance of Andrew!
    Jaana and family

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