This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on October 23, 1995
Pugwash Wins Nobel Prize
Vivian Godfree had just cleared the morning dishes at her Pugwash, N.S., home when her mother called from the British city of Bristol with surprising news - the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to an antiwar movement spawned in the tiny Nova Scotia village where she lives. "I can just see people all over the world scurrying for their atlases to see where Pugwash is," the older woman laughed. Well, not everyone. At almost that very moment, Gary Mundle, vice-chairman of the Pugwash Village Commission, sat in his kitchen puzzling over a call from a Norwegian reporter who wanted his reaction to the honor, and then sheepishly asked: "What state is Pugwash in, anyway?"
Just for the record, the village of 800 sits on the pristine waters of the Northumberland Strait, 200 km northeast of Halifax. And last week, the Nobel committee bestowed the peace prize - and a $1-million award - jointly on 86-year-old British nuclear physicist Joseph Rotblat and the organization of which he is chairman, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. The committee cited the recipients "for their work to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics." And Pugwash, the town, seemed positively giddy to find itself in the spotlight, no matter how tenuous the connection to the scientific think-tank.
But the conferences, after all, were the creation of Pugwash's most famous native son - Cyrus Eaton, who left for the United States to become a millionaire at age 27, went broke during the Great Depression, then built another fortune before dying in 1979 as one of the world's most powerful industrialists and most famous humanitarians. Explains Greg Gass, a Pugwash physician who grew up next door to the ancestral home where Eaton spent part of each summer: "He used to say there were only two things to do here - swim and think."
That, perhaps, is why in 1955 Eaton opened the doors of his summer home in response to a manifesto from Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein calling for a thinkers conference on science and world peace. Among other founders of the conferences was Rotblat, a Polish-born physicist who quit the Manhattan Project - the U.S. nuclear-arms development program that built the bomb - over ethical concerns.
From that beginning sprang a series of annual meetings bringing together eminent thinkers to search for an end to global tension - heady stuff for a sleepy oceanfront town with a salt mine as its main employer. The conferences are now held around the world, but Pugwash still periodically hosts the gatherings. Terry Smith, 46, now a social studies teacher at Pugwash District High School, has spent 30 years driving everyone from renowned scientist Linus Pauling to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Indiana's University of Notre Dame, from the Halifax airport to Eaton's estate. And Gass, 46, still has an autograph from Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian cosmonaut, who paraded through the streets of Pugwash soon after his historic flight.
Gass remembers the American tourists who came to see the home of Eaton - denounced in the United States as a "commie-lover." Eaton was investigated by the U.S. Senate for nine years in the 1950s because he was on intimate terms with leaders in the Soviet Union. He even received the Lenin Peace Prize, the Soviet Union's highest honor of its kind, in a 1960 ceremony at his beloved summer home in Pugwash. But the Nobel, Gass says, would have been Eaton's crowning achievement. Standing on the lawn in front of the rambling white house where a movement that changed the world was launched, Gass adds: "He'd have loved this." Instead, Pugwash will just have to celebrate for him.
Maclean's October 23, 1995