Ronald Clarke obituary

Other Lives: Educator who loved to travel and specialised in work for developing countries

My father, Ronald Clarke, who has died aged 89, was an education officer who helped design courses in public administration for developing economies.

Born in Poole, Dorset, the only son of Doris (nee Clarke), a Post Office clerk, and Harold, a surveyor with Poole city council, Ron went to Bournemouth boys’ grammar school and loved playing piano duets with his father. As a teenager, he found soulmates in the local Methodist church youth group; his religious faith ebbed away over the decades.

National service in 1952 was the turning point in his life. He was accepted as an officer cadet on the Russian interpreters’ course, which was based in Cambridge and Bodmin. His year’s intake included Michael Frayn and Alan Bennett, and our family photographs include a shot of this cohort grinning after a production in Russian of Gogol’s The Government Inspector.

The Russian course gave Ron an introduction to Cambridge University life, and he applied to Fitzwilliam House (now Fitzwilliam College) to study English. In his final year he met Betty Milligan, a primary school teacher, and they married in 1958.

By the time he graduated in 1957, his eyes were set on wider horizons. He applied to the Colonial Office for a post in Uganda as an education officer and moved to London to do the overseas-oriented PGCE course at the Institute of Education. From 1958 to 1970 he and Betty lived in Uganda, where Ron worked as director of extra-mural studies at Makerere University in Kampala, and where they had their four children. Between 1971 and 1974 he worked at Chancellor College in Malawi.

Then the family left Africa for a new life in Manchester. Ron’s work in educational outreach in Africa was the basis of the PhD he completed there in 1981. He also worked abroad in this period, evaluating schools in Nepal and Sierra Leone (mainly for Official Development Assistance, run by the British Council) and helping to establish a new university in Mauritius. Our house in Withington was often filled with visiting fellows from all over the world.

Ron’s love of landscape and hillwalking filtered down to all his children, and was a reason for moving to Malvern when he retired, in 2003. There, he became a chair and trustee of the development education charity Beacons, inspiring young people to change the world.

He is survived by Betty, by my siblings, Julian, Rachel, Jonathan, and me, and by his grandchildren Natasha, Phoebe, Jenna, Laura and Gregory.

Catherine Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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