Rhys Evans obituary

Other lives: Teacher who for many years was involved in community development, often with an international focus

My friend Rhys Evans, who has died aged 80 of motor neurone disease, was a genuine polymath. Formally a schoolteacher, he was also an adult education tutor, youth worker, linguist, musician, internationalist, hillwalker and cyclist, and a gifted writer of poems and stories.

He was fluent in German and Spanish, managed in French and Portuguese, and was at home in either English or Welsh. In 1985 he and I established a city link group between Leicester and Masaya, Nicaragua, which still exists, and in 1999 he set up Strides!, a mental health peer support group.

Rhys was born in Aberystwyth, mid-Wales, the elder child of Ifor Evans, principal of Aberystwyth University, who died when Rhys was 12, and his wife, Ruth (nee Jolles), who qualified as a social worker soon after Ifor’s death. Rhys went to a local primary school, then to an independent school in Oxford.

After studying languages at Cambridge University, and acquiring a diploma in education at Oxford, Rhys taught at Vyners grammar school, Middlesex, and then for two years at Munich University. From 1967 until 1973 he was head of English at Spendlove school, Charlbury, Oxfordshire. He then became the warden of the Wantage Youth and Community Centre in Oxfordshire and for almost a decade was vice-principal at Groby Community College in Leicestershire.

In 1986, increasingly interested in international development, he enrolled on the peace studies MA at Bradford University, subsequently visiting Mozambique and Nicaragua to promote UK links. Supporting himself via part-time teaching, school governor training and, later, his modest pension, he spent the next 30 years in community development and education work of different kinds, often with an international focus.

For 12 years he compiled a weekly internet bulletin, News from Everywhere, providing alternative perspectives on news stories from around the world, primarily for young people. He also organised a brigade of young builders to go to Nicaragua.

From 1992 until 1995, with his partner, Naomi Cohen, Rhys was a volunteer trainer in Mexico, supporting refugees displaced by violent conflict in Guatemala who wanted to return to their homeland. He went back every summer for 10 years to train teachers in the returnee communities.

Back in the UK, he worked in schools and adult education, mainly with marginalised groups with diverse needs. This included English language help for migrants and courses for people with visual impairments and those with mental health issues. The latter inspired the setting up of Strides!, an 80-strong network in Leicester supporting people with mental health problems.

Despite these varied achievements, Rhys’s lasting legacy is much more about his warm and inspirational personality. He could engage with anyone, anywhere. He adopted causes and campaigns without expecting to be the leader, always offering to do the least popular tasks.

He is survived by Naomi, his children, Joel, Hugh and Martin, from his first marriage, to Anna, which ended in divorce, and seven grandchildren, Edith, Archie, Emily, Harry, Sophie, Katie and Lily.


John Perry

The GuardianTramp

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