Lalage Bown

Professor Lalage Bown OBE

born April 1st 1927 in Croydon: died December 17th 2021 in Shrewsbury

Lalage Bown was a pioneer in the promotion and development of adult education globally, and especially in Africa, and a champion of women’s empowerment. Over the course of 30 years’ service from 1949 to 1979 in the universities of four countries of Commonwealth Africa, during the years of transition to political independence, she was a pioneering advocate of African advancement and worked tirelessly in encouraging Africans to record, celebrate and take pride in their cultures and heritage. After her African service she became Director (and Professor) of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Glasgow.

 Lalage – whose name of Greek origin, rhymes (inaptly!) with ‘allergy’ – regularly attended BAICE and UKFIET Conferences and was one of a select number of our colleagues honoured by BAICE with the award of Honorary Membership of the Association. Had she not died last December after a fall at her home in Shrewsbury she would surely have planned to attend this year’s Conference for she had a deep attachment both to Scotland and to Edinburgh – she was Commonwealth Visiting Professor at the University in 1974 and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She would have stood out as more than an ordinary participant, for she was invariably the first in the audience to direct a pertinent question to the Lead Speaker, and even into her 80s and 90s was frequently approached by Conference organisers to provide one of her concise and uplifting summaries of proceedings.

After graduating in History from Somerville College in Oxford in 1948, Lalage was appointed to the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University College of the Gold Coast (now University of| Ghana) and went on to work at Makerere in Uganda, the University of Zambia and at three Nigerian universities (Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello and Lagos), finally as Professor of Adult Education in Lagos. In all those posts she helped identify the opportunities and responsibilities that universities had to reach out to different sections of society and to share knowledge and resources with community groups and their leaders, politicians, employers and entrepreneurs including market women. Her influence was felt not just locally and nationally but also across Africa – she was one of the founders of the African Adult Education Association and was first organising Secretary of the International Congress of Africanists. Nigerian colleagues dubbed her ‘The Mother of African Adult Education’.

As in Africa, at the University of Glasgow from 1980 to1991, Lalage not only successfully built up a strong academic department: she also immersed herself in identifying ways the University could contribute to addressing learning needs in the city of Glasgow and the wider society. At the same time she maintained her interests and contacts in international education and development playing a prominent part in such fora as the Development Studies Association and (later) BAICE and UKFIET. She served on the Board of the British Council, was a Member of the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Student Mobility and Higher Education Co-operation. Among many voluntary bodies she was particularly active with World University Service, Womankind and the Council for Education in the Commonwealth.  After retirement from Glasgow she spent some years with the University of Warwick and had an honorary appointment at the Institute of Education in London. In her home town of Shrewsbury where she was based for the last 25 years of her life Lalage was actively engaged with a range of civic bodies and societies and right up to the time of her death was a regular editor of a local Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

Lalage’s achievements were formidable but her colleagues and friends will mostly remember her for her warm personality and indefatigable energy. She had boundless interest and concern for her fellow women and men, however elevated or humble, and took endless pains to help and encourage them, particularly young people at the start of their careers. She was convivial, loved a party and was a great raconteur. She treasured beautiful things and her own large library. She never married but brought up two accomplished Nigerian foster daughters, Kehinde and Taiwo.

All are welcome to join an event to remember the life and work of Professor Bown. It will take place at 6pm on Wednesday 14th September in the Nelson Room (St Leonard’s Building).