In Memoriam: former World YMCA Secretary-General Nick Nightingale, 1942-2022

It is with great sadness today that World YMCA and the worldwide YMCA Movement learned of the passing in York, UK, of Nick Nightingale, World YMCA Secretary General from 1998 to 2002.

 As Secretary-General, he acted on his vision set out in his acceptance speech in 1998: “I think the YMCA is about us helping people put themselves back together. At the core of our task is to bring transformation to individuals, their relationship with God, their sense of their own worth, the opportunity to be totally fulfilled. The YMCA has transformed me and I am sure it has transformed many of you. Our work with individuals, I suggest, is the bedrock on which everything else is built. Our calling is to work first with individuals, and then through them with their communities.  I’ve developed a vision of a world bridge called the YMCA. It’s a bridge which spans all our activities and aspirations, and our very many different versions and pictures of what the YMCA is and does. A bridge that lets us acknowledge that difference, that every YMCA is unique.”

 His was a unifying Secretary-Generalship, as he concluded a Mission and organisational review, and piloted the adoption of a Governance Policy Agreement and a global operating plan for Movement strengthening. He also worked very closely with then-President Martin Vogler to ensure unity around a number of difficult political issues.

 A commercial lawyer by training, prior to being World YMCA Secretary-General he had been the National General Secretary of YMCA England.

 Since leaving his post in 2002, he continued to serve causes in which he passionately believed. He sat on the Boards of several Non-Profit organisations, promoted Fair Trade products, and volunteered for Oxfam. He supported the ministry of his wife, an Anglican priest, and became a late convert to the possibilities presented by conducting business online.

 He treasured the day in London in June 2019 when he joined current Secretary-General Carlos Sanvee and former Secretaries General Johan Vilhelm Eltvik and Bart Shaha to mark the YMCA’s 175 anniversary at a special service in St Martin’s in the Field, followed by a reception in the UK Houses of Parliament.

 Carlos Sanvee writes:

 “Nick hired me in 1998 while I was still a young official in the YMCA of my native Togo.  He saw in me something I didn’t even know I had.  He believed in me. He invited me to work at World YMCA headquarters in Geneva, and  gave me the Finance portfolio. He told me I didn’t need an academic training for the role – he simply said that I had done it well in Togo, and could do it as headquarters, where people would help me when I needed it.

All along, he insisted that I was equipped to be a leader, and when I was appointed Secretary General he smiled and said ‘I’m not surprised’. He was my mentor and confidant, and he and his family became my friends.  I remember going to see him in 2007 in York when I was thinking of applying for the position as Secretary-General of the African Alliance of YMCAs, and he advised me to go for the role.

He dies the week after the 20th YMCA World Council, when the global YMCA Movement set a clear course for the future. It reminds me that in going forward to serve young people, we stand on the shoulders of many magnificent people, like Nick, who have gone before. We are forever grateful for all that he brought us.

My sincere condolences to his beloved wife Sue and his children Becky, Liz and Tom. The Sanvee family was proud to feel part of the Nightingale family, and the YMCA family mourns one of its very best.”