John Bowen obituary

Other lives: Physical recreation officer at Aston University who was responsible for building up its extensive sports facilities

My friend John Bowen, who has died aged 88, was a sports educator for most of his life. From 1970 until his retirement in 1995 he was physical recreation officer at Aston University in Birmingham, a job that involved the management of the university sports facilities, including playing fields, sports hall and swimming pool, as well as organising sporting activities for staff and students. John excelled at all sports but focused on squash, which he played in the Midlands League. He was also a superb salsa dancer.

The job at Aston suited him perfectly. John built the foundations of the current extensive sports facilities at the university. He oversaw the building of a new sports hall and organised both the purchase, in 1980, and refurbishment of the Victorian Woodcock Street swimming baths, where he swam every day.

One student who took squash lessons from John said: “There was nothing I could do to beat him. He taught me not only about squash but about humility and the value of technique, wisdom and of retaining one’s fitness.”

Born in Wrotham, Kent, John was the son of Jim Bowen, a policeman and Edith (nee Green), a lady-in-waiting to a member of the Bowes-Lyon family. He attended Maidstone grammar school, where he was captain of both cricket and football.

At 18 he did national service, initially training as a pilot at Cranwell. When new rules prevented him from completing that training, he worked as a radio operator in Sopley, Hampshire. In 1953 he went to Loughborough University to study education.

On graduation, he took his first teaching job at Loxton Street school in Nechells, Birmingham, attracted to the city by the Birmingham Athletics Institute. There he was part of the BAI gymnastics team that won the 1960 national championships. He moved on to work as sports master at the Royal Naval School Tal Handaq in Malta.

John married Rosemary Valentine, a teacher whom he had met at a tennis club in Birmingham, in 1958, and they had three children. The family left Malta in 1967 when he was appointed deputy director of sport at Kingston Polytechnic, which was closely followed by the move to Aston. The marriage ended in divorce in 1987.

During his time at Aston, John’s Sunday guided walks all over the Midlands were very popular, leading to many lifelong friendships. John and Valerie Cooke were colleagues at the university and after a long relationship they married in 2001.

John remained active in retirement. He bought a catamaran and sailed from the UK to the Mediterranean, fulfilling his ambition to sail into the Grand Harbour in Malta in his own boat. He spent summer months sailing in the Mediterranean for the next 14 years. He was also a keen skier.

Intelligent, creative and passionate about equal opportunities, John believed that with the right encouragement everyone can achieve their potential.

He is survived by Val, his three children, Karl, Fiona and Nickki, from his first marriage, by Val’s children, Simon and Lisa, and by four grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

Sue Wheeler

The GuardianTramp

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