Obituary: Kevin Keohane

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The Independent Online
In 1968 the Dainton Report gave the gloomy news that the flow of candidates for science and engineering degrees was in serious and steady decline. Yet there were those who were already working at reviving school science and mathematics. Kevin Keohane was a key figure in this task.

He had joined in the work of the Nuffield Foundation and become Director of its Science Teaching project in 1966. But he had a wider vision, for, as a Professor of Physics at Chelsea College, London, he saw the need for a base for science education in universities which neither their education departments nor their science departments seemed able to provide.

His joint efforts with Malcolm Gavin, then Principal at Chelsea, led to the establishment by London University of Britain's first chair in Science Education. Keohane was elected to this chair in 1967 and became founder and first director of the new Chelsea Centre for Science Education.

By the time Lord Dainton had delivered his report the centre was ready to open its doors to the first of many graduates to be trained in teaching science and mathematics. Keohane established the country's first chair in mathematics education there, and what with its innovative teacher training, the practical contribution of the Nuffield projects to curriculum development, and a growing strength in basic research, the centre became a model which others would imitate.

When Chelsea was merged with King's College London in 1985, the centre's strength enabled the new Faculty of Education at King's to advance to its present leading role in educational research. However, long before that, in 1976, Kevin Keohane had left - to apply his genius as an architect to the task of building the new Roehampton Institute.

He was the first rector of a new federation of four colleges of education (Digby Stuart, Whitelands, Southlands and the Froebel Institute), forced together despite their different religious origins and academic traditions, and required to achieve economies of scale - with the inevitable redundancies - through their collaboration. The task required a leader with endless patience, boundless optimism, and a talent for being both tough and kind- hearted. On his retirement, after 12 years, Keohane left behind a flourishing institution.

Formal retirement was no more than a redirection of energy, for inaction was quite foreign to Keohane's temperament. One of his staff at Chelsea described working for Keohane as like being tied to the tail of a rocket. His early career, as a physics graduate, as an RAF flight lieutenant working in radar during the Second World War, as a physics researcher on the optics of the eye, then in posts as a lecturer in anatomy at Bristol and as reader in biophysics followed by a chair in physics at Chelsea, had given him a broad background of interest in the sciences. He continued to have new ideas about the communication of science, both to schools through a continued leadership in the Nuffield projects and to a wider audience through his work as chairman of the board of the publishing firm Taylor and Francis.

However, his range of activities was wider still. His Who's Who entry lists over 30 institutions to which he made contributions. Most demanding must have been the work as chair of the two governing bodies of the Catholic high schools in Merton, the Jesuit foundation at Wimbledon College, and the Ursuline High School. These he guided through the turbulence of national reform policy until the day of his sudden death.

Particularly close to his heart was his work as chair of Myrrh, a charity devoted to providing craft and technical training to unemployed and unskilled young adults in deprived inner city areas of London. Joining the trust in 1986, he had supported the work for the past 10 years, helping it, with a relentless optimism which could not be blunted by setbacks, to recover from virtual closure when access to central funds was withdrawn. He led a successful search for new private funding, giving the charity a renewed basis for support which has only recently been accomplished.

Kevin Keohane had no ego or pride, and was a living thesaurus of personal contacts in all walks and areas. His loss is as keenly felt amongst secretaries and porters as amongst heads and directors, for he always found time for a personal chat with whoever worked around him. His fellow Christians will see him as an unusual example, for his faith and charity colluded with an unusually clear virtue of hope.

Paul Black

Kevin William Keohane, science educator and educational administrator: born Portsmouth 28 February 1923; Professor of Physics and Head of the Department of Physics, Chelsea College 1965, Vice-Principal 1966-76, Professor of Science Education and Director, Centre for Science Education 1967-76, Visiting Professor 1977-82; Rector, Roehampton Institute of Higher Education 1976-88 (Honorary Fellow 1988-96); CBE 1976; Visiting Professor, King's College London 1990-96; married 1949 Patricia Ashford (one son, three daughters); died London 13 April 1996.