Obituary: John Ashton Edwards

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The Independent Culture
TO THOUSANDS of people, John Ashton Edwards was a hero and a determined campaigner for the disabled. He was stricken with polio at the age of 17 and was confined for years to a wheelchair, but he overcame it all by determination, ability and a strong Christian faith. Eventually he was able to walk with two sticks and gained BA, BSc and MA degrees.

His academic career began in his native Liverpool when he became a lecturer in public administration at the College of Commerce. Then he was seconded to Nigeria, an experience that enriched his life. He kept contact after his return to England and served as an external examiner with the West African Examination Board.

When he came back to Liverpool he was ready to move, and in 1967 he was appointed to the staff of Sheffield College of Technology as Principal Lecturer in Economics. When it became Sheffield Polytechnic in 1969 he became Dean of the School of Business and Social Studies for three years. As Head of Political Studies he introduced the first CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards) BA in Public Administration.

In 1976 he moved to Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University), where he ended his career. For the last two years, he was Vice-Principal. When he retired in 1981 he moved permanently to the small village of Trefeglwys, in the heart of Montgomeryshire, where his mother, who lived to a ripe old age, resided at a large house called The Firs. He was close to his mother, and she was most hospitable, as I remember on more than one occasion.

Edwards's year of retirement was the Year of the Disabled, and he began really to exercise his considerable dynamism. Soon he became a leading activist of the Montgomeryshire Association for the Disabled. This led him to serve the wider disability movement and in 1985 he was elected Chairman of Disability Wales, which meant frequent travelling to its headquarters in Caerphilly. The Director, Howard John, told me that there were "two John Ashtons" - the formal, firm chairman, and the friendly campaigner after the meetings were over.

He was extremely independent and resisted any help till the end. All his life he gave himself to voluntary causes, from the Liverpool Family Services Unit to playing the organ at the Welsh Presbyterian Church. Above all, he enjoyed fellowship, and invitations to parties, conferences, gatherings and dinners; he was present at the official dinner for the Emperor of Japan who visited Cardiff in early June.

A first-class communicator, he was sought after by the media, and spoke with fluency in English as well as in Welsh on disability issues. He only missed his heavy schedule of meetings for the last week of his life when the pain in his shoulder started to be unbearable.

D. Ben Rees

John Ashton Edwards, lecturer in public administration, university administrator and campaigner for the disabled: born Liverpool 27 March 1926; died Aberystwyth 3 July 1998.