Lives Remembered: Peter Snelson

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The Independent Online

On graduating from Trinity in his home town of Cambridge, my father Peter Snelson, who died on 6 January, chose to fulfil his National Service at RAF Thornhill outside Gweru in what was then Southern Rhodesia. He fell in love with Northern Rhodesia (to become Zambia) and, on completing his national service, qualified as a teacher and returned to join the Colonial Education Service in the African Education Department.

Within months of starting at Munali School in Lusaka Peter was asked to move to Fort Jameson, near the Malawi border, to manage and inspect 40 or so LEA schools. These schools were scattered sparsely over the 10,000 square miles of the Lundazi District, whose lack of roads made the task of schools inspection a serious undertaking. Peter's first inspection tour took two weeks, during which he and his party of 29 carriers, orderlies, messengers and cooks covered 150 miles and visited just four schools.

Peter spent 14 years in various roles in Zambia, rising to Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Education. His book on the educational history of the country became a standard text. During this time he met my mother, Evelyn, a Church of Scotland teacher, and their deep, shared Christian faith was to sustain their life together.

On returning to Britain, Peter spent 19 years at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, supporting multilateral co-operation between Commonwealth countries in the provision of education and developing a scholarship programme whereby students from one member country could study or train in another. In his final year 3,100 students were placed at 170 institutions in over 40 countries.

Peter helped edit the proceedings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in 1979 where Margaret Thatcher withdrew Britain's recognition of Ian Smith's regime in Southern Rhodesia. The subsequent Lancaster House Conference provided for free elections under British authority. Peter co-directed the support team for the Commonwealth Group of judges, politicians and senior civil servants who risked the volatile environment as election observers.

He and Evelyn returned to Africa on retirement, serving two years in Aswan for the VSO. They then returned to Cambridge until Peter's death at 83. He retained a passion for learning, wrote more books and continued to bear Christian witness. He will be remembered as a man of substantial intellect and integrity. He is survived by Evelyn, their three children and five grand-children.

Andrew Snelson

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