Martin Thomas obituary

Other lives: Social work educator and author

My friend and colleague Martin Thomas, who has died aged 73, was a noted social work educator and author whose innovations in curriculum design and widely read publications encouraged a generation of students to think deeply about their practice.

He was born in wartime Berlin to a German father, Alfred Kupfer, a glassblower, and English mother, Edith (nee Prudence). Edith worked briefly for the British military in the city. After the second world war his parents separated and Martin and his three older brothers left for Britain with their mother, who worked as a secretary. Twenty-five years later, at the height of the cold war, Martin tracked down Alfred, who was living alone in an East Berlin flat, a difficult, but for him necessary reunion.

The family settled in Willesden, north-west London, where Edith married George Thomas. With the welcome addition of a half-sister, Martin remembered his London years with fondness for the freedom he had to explore the capital.

He went to Willesden grammar school and then Ealing grammar school. After graduating in 1966 with a degree in sociology at Strathclyde University, where he also directed plays and developed his lifelong passion for drama, poetry and novels, he lectured at Fircroft College, Birmingham, and then Sussex University, where he taught sociology by day and adult classes in the evening.

He took an MA in social work at Warwick University in 1975, then worked for family service units in Birmingham and Bradford, spearheading campaigns against domestic violence. He threw himself into Chile Solidarity and anti-racism work. Martin founded the Kings Norton Anti-Racist Society in Birmingham.

In 1989, he was appointed head of social work at Staffordshire University, where he built up a thriving Institute of Social Work, which achieved national prominence with a specialism in sensory impairment.

In addition to publishing articles, Martin edited and wrote much of the Dictionary of Social Work, first published in 1995, which sold almost 20,000 copies over several editions. He co-authored Social Work and Domestic Violence in 1998 and The Social Worker’s Guide to the Social Sciences: Key Concepts in 2013, to positive reviews.

His appointment as practice tutor at Manchester University in 2004 allowed him more time for the Labour party, Amnesty International and the annual film festival in Buxton, Derbyshire, where he lived for 30 years.

As, in his phrase, a bionic man, with two artificial knees, one artificial hip and an artificial heart valve, he walked 100 miles across his beloved Peak District in two weeks to raise money for the domestic violence charity Crossroads.

Martin is survived by Clare, the daughter of his first marriage, to Joan (nee Veasey), which ended in divorce; by two children, Dan and Maddy, from his second marriage, to Kate Hamey; and by three grandchildren. His and Joan’s son, Carl, predeceased him.

John Pierson

The GuardianTramp

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