Obituary: Leslie Farrer-Brown
Tuesday 03 May 1994
IN the early 1940s the motor industry magnate Lord Nuffield was seeking a proper framework for his long-established philanthropic enterprises. The Nuffield Foundation was established in 1944 with a group of distinguished managing trustees, Sir William Goodenough as their Chairman and Leslie Farrer-Brown as the foundation's first Secretary, later Director, a post which he held until his retirement in 1964.
The foundation's terms of reference pointed to the advancement of health and social welfare, to the care and comfort of the aged poor (Nuffield's own phrase), to education, to science and to the research and exploration necessary to realise these purposes. The Director was expected by the managing trustees to play an active part in the planning and the administration of the programme, and 'FB' set the style. A few examples of undertakings supported in his time indicate something of the range: in the late 1940s the Rowntree inquiry into old people's homes; the setting up of the Nuffield Hospitals Trust; in the earlier days of television the Himmelweit inquiry into its effects on children; in the last few years of Farrer-Brown's tenure the Nuffield school science programme; the support given to the Jodrell Bank radio telescope near Manchester; the responses to university and other libraries in the period of post-war expansion in higher education; the establishment of Commonwealth fellowships.
Of course, in fairness, all established trusts and foundations can claim to have records of judicious and impressive benefaction. What is being celebrated here is Farrer- Brown's vision and consistent integrity, sustained over 21 years, as he travelled widely, putting down strong roots in the Commonwealth, especially in Africa, as well as in the United States. He was appointed CBE in 1960 and honorary degrees came to him.
Leslie Farrer-Brown was born in 1904 and graduated from the London School of Economics in the mid-1920s after which he entered university administration in London and was called to the Bar. During the Second World War he was seconded to the Ministry of Health, and social welfare, the law, education, administration, science (particularly medical science) had begun to emerge as principal elements in his experience and interests at the time of his appointment to the Nuffield.
When he retired in 1964, aged 60, his intellectual and physical energy, his openness to new ideas and his social conscience remained. So too did his administrative and legal experience (for over 20 years in London he served as a magistrate), his circle of contacts, and the committees he served on in broadcasting and educational television, in communication generally and the development of languages, in medical education and hospital administration. In 1969 he took up a new career, as a Director, and later Chairman, of the Alliance Building Society. He was glad to renew his university connections, becoming an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics in 1975 and a member of the Court of Sussex University, later the Chairman of Council and Senior Pro-Chancellor. He loved and tended his beautiful garden in Lewes and painting was his principal hobby; he adapted to the computer, the word processor and the cordless telephone with confidence and success.
Such a record sounds and is formidable but Farrer-Brown was not a formidable man. He talked freely on many subjects, he enjoyed argument, he listened and he had sympathy for the diffident and a well- controlled asperity for those who presumed too far.
Doris Farrer-Brown, a woman of character and generosity of spirit to match her husband's, died in 1986. They were splendid hosts and welcome guests and undoubtedly they were both happiest with their family. He died peacefully just over a fortnight after his 90th birthday party which, frail though he was, he had enjoyed in their company.
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