Robert Lochrie obituary

Other lives: General secretary of the WEA who devoted his life to the cause of adult education

My colleague and friend Robert Lochrie, who has died aged 78, dedicated his life to adult education. Between 1982 and 2003, as general secretary of the Workers’ Educational Association, he oversaw its transformation, renewed its mandate and strengthened its vision.

In 1982 the WEA was composed of autonomous districts, and was largely unchanged since 1915. By Robert’s retirement it had become a unitary, though still democratic, organisation, with a clear focus on education for social change.

Legislation in 1992 to overhaul adult education funding could have destroyed the WEA. But, according to the Guardian in 2004, Robert “shrewdly did a deal … getting central funding to replace the local funding that was being lost. Lochrie, by common consent, saved the WEA.”

The new ability to plan strategically meant that women’s education programmes, links with the trade unions, return-to-learn projects, literacy courses and diversity initiatives, to name a few, were widely supported. In 2000 the Further Education Funding Council recognised these achievements as the “successful widening of participation and significant contribution to lifelong learning”.

Robert was also a leading figure in the revitalisation of the international workers’ education movement. He was proud of the WEA’s role in supporting workers’ education in Zambia. His support for the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations, and many organisations overseas rooted in the labour movement, was crucial.

Robert was born in Paisley to working-class parents. His father, James, was a dyer and his mother, Chrissie (nee Smith), a baker. He graduated from Glasgow University in 1962 and was appointed WEA tutor organiser. In 1969 he became district secretary for the west of Scotland, developing a radical curriculum focused on eradicating educational disadvantage. His close relationships with trade unionists, community associations and women’s organisations, combined with formidable lobbying skills, made him a force in the renewal of adult education across Scotland.

A lifelong member of the Labour party, he was elected to Paisley town council at the age of 25. In 1974 he became leader of the majority group on the new Renfrew district council. In this role he witnessed the impact of poverty, unemployment and poor housing, cementing his belief in education as a means of reversing inequalities.

Robert met Margaret Reid, who also worked for the WEA, and they married in 1986. They shared a rich cultural hinterland, which blossomed at the WEA’s annual summer school in Edinburgh, where many students had their first life-changing exposure to the arts. Robert loved opera and the arts, was good company and stayed loyal to St Mirren FC.

He is survived by Margaret and by his stepdaughter, Greer.

Charlie Lynch

The GuardianTramp

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