Marion Welchman

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The Independent Online
Marion Welchman has been called the "needle and thread" of the dyslexia world, weaving an ever-widening network of teaching and information.

She was born Marion Eves in 1915, in Penarth, South Wales. After school in Penarth, she studied nursing at Cardiff Royal Infirmary and for the next 17 years nursing was her career, ending in Occupational Health in the Westinghouse Co in Chippenham during the Second World War. There she met her husband to be, an engineer, Dennis Welchman. They were married in 1943 and had three children, two girls, and a boy.

Howard, the youngest, was a bright boy who had incredible difficulties in learning at school. It was Marion Welchman's search for help for Howard that led her to dyslexia, and what was to become a lifelong interest.

Her early contacts were with the Invalid Children's Aid Association and their Word Blind Project in the early 1960s. Through them Welchman made contact with the Orton Dyslexia Society in the United States, who put her in touch with Agnes Wollf as a teacher for her son. This was such a success that Welchman decided to spread her knowledge and invited Sally Childs, a teacher who had worked with the Gillingham, Stillman teaching programme of multisensory teaching in the US, to run a training course for teachers in Bath.

It was Welchman's drive and determination that raised the money to set this up and the first course was held in 1969, with 13 state teachers and 10 from independent schools taking part. The demand for places was so great that the course was repeated for the next four years.

Having begun to get the teachers organised, Welchman turned her attention to the parents. By 1970 she had travelled the country talking to parents and setting up local associations of parents and teachers, the first being in Bath in 1966. The need for a national organisation was becoming urgent and, with Welchman's encouragement, eight local associations banded together to form the British Dyslexia Association in 1972. Twenty-five years later, the BDA has 100 local associations and over 75 corporate members.

Welchman's influence since these early days has been immense. She was a wonderful communicator, interested in people and weaving them into her world-wide web of contacts. Tall and elegant, she made an impressive ambassador. Wherever she visited she made friends, offered support and picked brains.

After the death of her husband in 1984 she travelled widely and her personal contacts led to activity in places as far apart as South Africa, where a trust bears her name, and Singapore, where she was invited to the first meeting of the Singapore Dyslexia Association. When ill-health prevented her travelling, she maintained and made new contacts with parents and teachers in Nigeria and India and she eagerly supported the foundation of the European Dyslexia Association. She was delighted to be the first overseas recipient of the International Leadership Award of the Orton Dyslexia Society and very proud to be appointed MBE in 1992.

Her conviction that dyslexia has no boundaries led to her involvement in the setting up of the World Dyslexia Network Foundation in 1995 (her 80th year) and her dream of a truly international dyslexia family drew a step closer with the launch of the WDNF's first project - the Dyslexia Research Website to coincide with the 1896-1996 "100 Years of Dyslexia" campaign in November last year.

The BDA's 4th International Conference, held last month in York, and attracting over 600 delegates, was the first she had not been able to attend but a concert in her honour enabled the BDA to show their appreciation of this "mother from Bath who thought she could do something".

Marion Welchman's world was not limited to dyslexia. She was a very talented dressmaker in her "spare" time and many of her friends were recipients of her verses to mark special events. She was able to infect her friends with her enjoyment of life, even when they found themselves committed to a course of action they hadn't previously considered.

Jo Matti

Marion Eves, charity administrator: born Penarth 6 June 1915; MBE 1992; married 1943 Dennis Welchman (died 1984; one son, two daughters); died Hatch End, Middlesex 19 April 1997.