My uncle Steve Bowden, who has died aged 65 from ischaemic heart disease, was a gentle, thoughtful and generous man whose lifelong passion for learning inspired everyone he met. As a cherished and respected headteacher, and then in leadership roles across the education sector, he dedicated his life to giving young people across Wales the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
Born in Bristol to Mervyn Bowden, a police officer, and Jeannette (nee Hayes), a nurse, Steve was brought up with a strong belief in egalitarian principles and the importance of education – an outlook forged by the family’s roots in the mining communities of south Wales.
He was happiest outdoors from an early age: fishing, walking, in the middle of a rugby scrum, and working on a local farm as a teenager. After Speedwell comprehensive school, his love of the natural world led to a botany degree (1976) at Swansea University.
Steve’s caring nature made teaching an obvious career. A postgraduate certificate in education at Bristol University was followed by teaching roles at secondary schools in Cardiff, where his leadership skills quickly became apparent.
After a three-year stint at the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, Steve became deputy headteacher at Treorchy comprehensive school in Rhondda Cynon Taf in 1992, and headteacher at Porth county community school, also in the Rhondda, between 1996 and 2011.
Steve turned that struggling school around, creating a warm and welcoming environment where achievement was celebrated in more than just grades. His hard work and innovative approach were recognised nationally and internationally as an outstanding example of community-focussed schooling. He also served as president of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru in 2006-07.
Steve transitioned into retirement with a two-year secondment at the Welsh government. He remained committed to education causes, serving as a trustee at the Motivation and Learning Trust and Cardiff’s Arts Active Trust. In 2019 he became chairman of Cardiff’s science and discovery centre, Techniquest, where he was instrumental in helping the charity weather the Covid-19 pandemic.
Retirement meant more time for yoga and getting his hands dirty in the garden and kitchen. Sponsored hikes over the years, mostly with his walking group, the Old Gits – including a life-changing journey through Patagonia’s Torres del Paine – raised thousands of pounds for causes such as Cancer Research UK.
A first marriage ended in divorce in 1988. Steve then married Allison Hughes in 1992.
He is survived by Allison, his daughters from his first marriage, Rebecca and Samantha, grandchildren Ben, Owen, Isabella and Eleanor, and sister Beverley.