Obituary: Lewis Brown

Lewis Willian Brown, teacher and educationalist: born Reigate 26 February 1908; Headmaster, Hantoub School, Sudan 1945-56; OBE 1950; teacher, Lancing College 1957-82; married 1938 Elizabeth North (died 1945; two sons), 1948 Elizabeth Richards; died Ferring, West Sussex 24 June 1994.

LEWIS BROWN was an exceptional schoolmaster whose principal work was to shape secondary education in the Sudan between 1936 and the country's independence in 1955. His impress remained on Sudan for 20 more years.

The son of a country miller, Lewis Brown was born in Reigate, Surrey, and went, after London University and a job at Windermere Grammar School, to teach science at the old Gordon Memorial College, in Khartoum, where he served under another great humanist - GC Scott. To a remarkable degree, Brown combined toughness, charisma and a playful spirit. And he was resilient. Big educational and constitutional innovations were being brought in in the Thirties. Then the Second World War came and everything slowed.

Brown was adventurous. Canoeing, climbing, sailing, orienteering and everyday scientific enquiries all mopped up his energies. He shared this with his pupils; whether young Sudanese or - much later - with Lancing boys. In 1941, he and I made the first ascent of Jebel Kassala, in eastern Sudan - 2,000 feet of mainly quite severe boiler-plate slabs, which became very hot. This was soon after the Italians had retreated into Ethiopia. On a second ascent we took two Sudanese teenagers. On the top was a legendary Tree of Life, just visible from the town. The climb was repeated 40 years on; and our one, shameful, piton was still intact.

During the war period Brown and I were among the educationalists who were trying to think out the right pattern for future, pre-independence secondary education in the Sudan. A working party of educationalists came up with 'The Brown Plan'. This nearly took off. It envisaged a large increase of junior secondary schools with a varying, 'productive' bias: agricultural, technical, commercial. However, educated Sudanese opinion, which was beginning to be listened to by the Anglo-Egyptian condominum government of Sudan, thought this was a second- best plan and wanted a much more 'British' solution - fewer but more academic boarding schools. A senior Sudanese who had visited England thought that Eton was 'on the right lines'.

In 1946 Brown became headmaster and founder of one of these new schools - Hantoub, on the east bank of the Blue Nile. He was there for 10 years and was appointed OBE in 1950 for his services to education. At Hantoub, and in similar institutions, it was then possible for strong secular values to co-exist with Arabic-Islamic tradition and even with a Christian minority. 'If on the small scale, why not on the large?' was then our hope.

In such communities there would naturally be a tinge of Imperial over-confidence. We never imagined the dangers of chauvinism, ethnicism, fundamentalism and the scrambling desire to get children away from rural life which have since marred so much of Africa.

One of Brown's star pupils at this time was Jaafer Numeiri - captain of football. Numeiri became dictator of independent Sudan in 1969, when, having established a Revolutionary Command Council, he tried to hold together the, by then, shaky centralised state. On a visit in 1970, I remember Brown remonstrating with his former pupil about totalitarian tendencies.

Brown's wife died before he went to Hantoub. They had two small sons. Three years later, Brown married Elizabeth Richards, who had been working on the education of village women in the Gezira Scheme. She and their joint family of five took part in many of Brown's more elderly adventures.

For 25 years, well into his seventies, Brown taught physics at Lancing College, in Sussex, eventually becoming head of the subject. Many myths grew up around him and the tales he told (and they were 95 per cent true ones): the cloud of bats flying out of the ancient (but still usable) pit latrine, the copulation and digestion of camels, the giant plants of Ruwenzori, the odd behaviour of static electricity under power lines. Above all Lewis Brown revelled in the processes of enquiry, of learning; and especially of children learning. In his old age the right hemisphere of his brain came into its own and he learnt, and loved learning, to paint acrylic landscapes.

When he was nearly 75, Brown went back to Africa again, to the Shire river which runs north to Lake Nyasa. He and a group of a dozen Lancing masters and boys canoed down that great river for many days and Lewis Brown tasted again the sparse fare, the blue hills, the great plains and the friendly people of a continent which he had loved, and not a few of whose people loved him.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on