Obituary: J. P. L. Gwynn

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The Independent Culture
J. P. L. GWYNN followed his father into the Indian Civil Service in 1939 and elected to remain in it after Indian independence in 1947. When he retired as Second Member of the Board of Revenue in 1968 he was the last UK citizen still in an executive post in the ICS under the Government of India.

Peter Gwynn gave four reasons for not having resigned at the time of independence. First, his Irish background gave him sympathy for the Indian nationalist cause; secondly, the Madras government had made British members an offer to stay for an indefinite period; thirdly, his being stationed in the Nilgiris District from 1947 to the end of 1949, ending as Collector, Ootacamund, encouraged an optimistic view of what making a career in the new India might lead to; and, finally, he felt that staying on in south India might provide opportunities to learn more languages.

While serving in a series of districts in Madras, Andhra and Andhra Pradesh between 1941 and 1957, Gwynn developed an enduring love of the Telugu language, in particular, and of its peoples. This led - after his retirement from the British civil service in 1976 (after returning from India he spent eight years at the Treasury) - to the compilation of his magnum opus, the first dictionary to the language since 1894, A Telegu-English Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press in 1991. Gwynn had worked industriously on it for 12 years, assisted by Professor J. Venkateswara Sastry. In 1985, he had also produced A Grammar of Modern Telugu, in collaboration with Professor Bhadriraju Krishnamurti. For this work Gwynn received international Telugu awards in India.

John Peter Lucius Gwynn was born in London in 1916 into a distinguished and privileged background. His grandmother was linked to the Elton family of Clevedon Court, Somerset, and married the architect John Sedding, who had a London street named after him next to one of his most beautiful churches, Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square.

Peter's father, John Tudor Gwynn, came from an Irish family which can be traced back over 1,000 years through to Brian Boru, the first king of all Ireland. Peter was the great-grandson of William Smith O'Brien, of Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, one of Ireland's early freedom-fighters, who was transported to prison in Tasmania.

When John Tudor Gwynn retired in 1921 from the Madras Presidency of the ICS and returned to Oxford with his young family, Peter's education began at the Dragon School. Later his father accepted the headmastership of Baymount Preparatory School for Boys in Dublin, after which Peter followed family tradition by completing his schooling at St Columba's, Rathfarnam, ending with graduation in Classics at Trinity College Dublin. He then spent a year at University College, Oxford, studying Sanskrit.

He was deeply devoted to all his family and was an indulgent father and grandfather. The keynote characteristics of his life were his simplicity and modesty, which endeared him to all who came to know him.

John Peter Lucius Gwynn, civil servant and linguist: born London 22 June 1916; married 1959 Peggy Satur (two sons); died Bromley, Kent 14 September 1999.

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