Adult educator: advocate for the right for access to education, women’s literacy and decolonisation

Adult educator: advocate for the right for access to education, women’s literacy and decolonisation

Emeritus Professor Lalage Bown, OBE died in Shrewsbury hospital on 17 December 2021, aged 94, following a fall at home. An eminent women’s literacy advocate, she dedicated her life’s work to improving education for the disadvantaged, especially women, seeking to bring university opportunities to the widest possible sections of society.

Lalage was immersed in a tradition which regarded adult education as a catalyst for significant social change. Her ideas were informed by a post-war world in which many believed that the kind of injustices suffered under colonial rule had to end. But, beyond this, in her radical way, she also saw the need to develop new inclusive, post-colonial approaches to education, including the reform of university curricula. She devoted her life to this mission, inspiring and challenging all she met- professionals and learners- across many countries in Africa and Europe.


Daughter of Dorothy Ethel Watson and Arthur Mervyn Bown, Lalage Bown was born in Croydon on April 1, 1927. The oldest of four children, she was destined for a strong start in life. Before she was born, her mother had agreed to marry her father – on the condition that, if they had any daughters, they would be entitled to education opportunities equal to any sons, quite remarkable for the 1920s. Lalage grew up looking after her younger siblings while their parents lived and worked abroad. Lalage and her two brothers, Hugh and Mark, and her sister Jacqueline, lived in England, but their parents lived abroad because their father’s work with the Indian Civil Service was based in Burma. The children lived in children’s’ holiday homes and boarding schools.  As the oldest, Lalage was responsible for keeping an eye on her younger brothers and sister, effectively bringing them up.  Their mother would travel home by boat every summer, but their father had leave only every third year. They would speak to their parents for five minutes on the telephone each Christmas.

Lalage was educated at Wycombe High School for Girls (1939-42), Cheltenham Ladies College (1942-45) and Somerville College at the University of Oxford (1945-9), gaining an Honours Degree in Modern History (1948) followed by a Master of Arts (1949).  At that time, she was one of just 600 female students at Oxford, among 6000 males. In common with all her generation, Lalage experienced the challenges of World War II. Aged just 20 she visited Germany in the immediate aftermath contributing to the Allies humanitarian and educational work. She was particularly impressed at Somerville by the diversity of her fellow students whose cohort included people from Denmark, France, Poland, Guyana and New Zealand, but undertaking post-graduate courses in adult education and economic development stimulated her lifelong interest in Africa. She left Oxford with a sense of responsibility to make good use of her privilege.

Pioneering adult education in Africa

It is not surprising, therefore, that after her studies, Lalage applied in 1949 for a resident tutor post based at the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of University College of the Gold Coast (subsequently Ghana). As an African colleague said, she chose to serve overseas, leaving behind the comfort and serenity of her environment for the more challenging terrain of Africa. During her interview, she was asked “Now Miss Bown, supposing you were to get the job and you were in the jungle in a car and your car broke down, how do we know you wouldn’t have a fit of hysterics?’’  She simply replied, “Well sir, if you don’t give me the job, you’ll never find out, will you?” She was given the job. It is perhaps ironic that, by her own admission, Lalage was the worst driver in the world and soon gave up after demolishing a gate on arrival at a friend’s house in Ghana, as her host watched in horror from the house balcony.  At just 22, Lalage travelled via Senegal to Ghana where she became involved in teaching African literature and arts and helped to create the first African folk high school.

Over a period of 30 years in Africa she became the first field resident tutor in the Extra-Mural Department at Makerere University College in Uganda, and held various positions at the University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, the University of Zambia and the University of Lagos. In Zambia, Lalage established a national extra-mural programme, emphasising the role of the university in promoting discussion of current issues, with special courses for trade unionists, politicians and the police, and made use of radio, television and theatre for public education. She also helped to set up the first systematic university training for adult educators in Africa. She was an activist who served as the founding Secretary of the African Adult Education Association and as an active participant at the building of the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education. For her role in these institutions, she received numerous awards and recognitions. A special issue of the journal, Adult Education in Nigeria, was dedicated to the celebration of her 70th birthday in 1997, when she was named the ‘Mother of Adult Education in Africa’. Of most significance, she saw first-hand the effects of illiteracy and dedicated much of her career in Africa to helping adult women learn to read and write. Interviewed by Mary de Sousa in 2009 for the UNESCO Education Sector Newsletter, she said: “I was left with the huge conviction that even the simplest acquisition of literacy can have a profoundly empowering effect personally, socially and politically. When it comes to women, there is a huge change in their self-worth and confidence.”

Early efforts to decolonise the curriculum

Lalage was instrumental in supporting the ‘Africanisation’ of the curriculum. Speaking on BBC Radio4 ‘Woman’s Hour’, she described how, when she arrived in Africa, the students were required to study standard English texts such as William Wordsworth’s ‘daffodils poem’. She thought this was absurd and that they should be studying more relevant African texts.  She suggested to her (mostly male) colleagues that more relevant material, by African authors about African life, would be more appropriate, but they said there was no material available in English. She bet them a bottle of beer that she could produce texts written in English by Africans over a period of 200 years. They laughed at her but within two weeks, she had found relevant letters, diaries and texts and won her bottle of beer. This eventually led to the publishing of her book in 1973 Two Centuries of African English, which became a much relied-upon resource for the African universities at the time. Among many other distinctions, she was the first organising secretary of the International Congress of Africanists. On a personal level, when in Nigeria, Lalage looked after five-year-old Nigerian twin girls. After six months, she had bonded so strongly with the girls, she asked if she could keep them on. There were no formal adoption arrangements, but they became her daughters. Lalage fostered them long term and now the twins are over 60 years old!

Returning to the UK

Lalage’s work in Africa did not go unnoticed. In 1974, she became a Commonwealth Visiting Professor at Edinburgh University; and in 1975, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University for services to the education of the underprivileged. She received the William Pearson Tolley Award from Syracuse University in 1975, the first woman to receive that award. She was then awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1977.  The honours and accolades continued throughout her life; Lalage received her sixth honorary doctorate (from the University of Chester) during a graduation ceremony in 2018. Lalage returned full-time to the UK as Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in 1980. Whilst there, she assisted a colleague who was running a small independent adult education centre based in the Quaker meeting house in Brighton and embroiled in political struggles to defend learner-centred literacy work. Lalage arrived as ever a whirlwind of energy, advice and clarity of thought; radical, disciplined, inspiring and determined that the adult education centre should combine internationalism and the pursuit of social justice in its work. For the remainder of her life, whenever they met her, colleagues were inspired by her distinct combination of a challenge to be rigorous, coupled with encouragement and renewed motivation.

Glasgow University, Scotland

In 1981 Lalage was appointed to the Department of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Glasgow as Director and titular professor. All of those who had the chance to work with Lalage in Glasgow were privileged in a directly personal way. Under her leadership in the 1980s Glasgow University had the widest subject range of all continuing education departments in the UK, and the 5th highest enrolment figures. Close to Lalage’s heart was the establishment in 1990 of an Equal Opportunities Training Unit with three members of staff. This unit provided training for the police and Glasgow District Council. Access to higher education programmes also flourished under her leadership, and three former access students were awarded higher degrees by the University in 1988.

Lalage also maintained significant links with African nations. In 1986 she delivered a lecture at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, as part of its Faculty of Education Silver Jubilee celebrations. That same year a group of African adult educators visited the Department. Throughout her tenure at Glasgow, Lalage’s reputation encouraged many African students to undertake postgraduate work in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education. She was particularly proud of the growth in the numbers of students taking postgraduate courses in adult education. Given her belief in the importance of the relationship between theory and practice in adult education, the Diploma in Adult Education held particular significance for her. Many of the part-time postgraduate students were employed in work with ethnic minorities and low-income students. 1983 saw the first graduate from the MEd in Adult and Community Education. Lalage believed firmly in the maintenance of high academic standards in the discipline of adult education. She insisted that academic colleagues in the Department from other disciplines attend a module on the principles and practices of adult education.

On her retiral from the University of Glasgow in 1992 she was delighted that her successor was also a woman, at a time when c6% of the professoriate were women- celebrating in typical style over a glass of good Scotch in Glasgow’s Central Railway Station and setting the stage for subsequent women in senior leadership roles. Lalage maintained her links with the University for the remainder of her life, including as a strong supporter of the Centre for Research & Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning (CRADALL). In the late 1990s, in line with her appetite to widen access to knowledge across international boundaries, she agreed to act as External Examiner for an innovative Masters in English and Educational Studies, which was partly delivered on site in the UAE.

Unusually, in recognition of her distinctive contribution, Glasgow University awarded an honorary degree to one of its own Emeritus Professors. Lalage received a D.Litt. in April 2002, and, also unusually, was invited to give the charge to the graduates. In a stirring address she stressed the importance of equality in learning. The graduates were spellbound as Lalage laid out her conviction that everyone had a right to knowledge, but that knowledge must not just be information but should include analysis, interpretation and critical appraisal. In support of adult education, community engagement and lifelong learning, she called on the University to strengthen its service to mature citizens who wanted access to some university knowledge, but not always necessarily a degree. She also highlighted the need for a better gender balance especially in postgraduate study. She looked forward in her address to the day when the University might have a female Principal. Finally, she drew from her long career in Africa to highlight the need for those in developing countries to have access to the knowledge community. Her message was, therefore, about equality and access between countries as well as within the UK. Again, unusually, this oration received a standing ovation.

On-going engagement and other honours

Lalage continued to work to try and make a difference in people’s lives all throughout her ‘retirement’. In the 1990s, she pulled together her experiences on the effects of literacy on adult women into a ground-breaking report ‘Preparing for the future: women, literacy and development: the impact of female literacy on human development and the participation of literate women in change.’ She was also named a fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1991. In 2009 she was inducted into the International Hall of Fame for Adult and Continuing Education. She remained an active member of many boards, trusts, committees and councils concerned with higher education, adult education, literacy and community enrichment in Africa, the Commonwealth and the UK, including being life member of the African Adult Education Association, being joint deputy executive chair of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth from 1999 to 2006 and being Hon. Vice-President of the Townswomen’s Guilds in the UK for the last 24 years.

To her friends and colleagues, Lalage appeared both phenomenal and indestructible. Just before her planned 90th birthday celebration in Glasgow in 2017, she fell and broke her hip. As she was wheeled into hospital in great pain, Lalage found the strength to chuckle when the young volunteer pushing her wheelchair said it ‘made her day to meet a celebrity’.  The indomitable Lalage came to Glasgow the following year to celebrate a belated 90th birthday. Among other commitments in recent years, she was an engaged patron of the Adult Education 100 campaign- celebrating and taking forward the ideals of the ground breaking 1919 British Government report on adult education. Lalage remained active in her local community in Shrewsbury and regularly recorded newspaper readings for the blind. At the age of 94 she enjoyed participating in a local campaign against a new development in her area but complained it got in the way of her academic work! She was a generous donor to appeals for public monuments in Shrewsbury, was Chair of the townships Residence association and was an active member of the local Rotary. During the recent lockdown at her home in Shrewsbury, Lalage reflected in an interview on the fight against fascism during World War II and the current fight against the coronavirus. Describing both as ‘struggles without boundaries’ she recalled the fear of imminent death in WW II through bombing, of carrying a gas mask, and queuing with school-mates, each paying sixpence for the Red Cross just to smell a single grape-fruit. Demonstrating the sense of social justice, she displayed all of her life, Lalage observed ‘the advantage then was that everyone had a basic equality. I never foresaw a time when millions had to go to food banks’. She added that ‘the greater social equality of the war years ('all in it together') resulted in welfare reforms, including, of course, the National Health Service’’. Without it, she concluded, our present 'war' against the coronavirus would be unbelievably more frightening.


Professor Lalage Bown was an outstanding communicator: she wrote, edited or contributed to around 26 books and monographs plus around 86 articles. In her leisure time she enjoyed travel, reading and entertaining friends.  She was living proof of the adage “If you never stop learning, you never grow old.” One colleague said if he were to highlight one special characteristic of Lalage's among so many, it would be her open, friendly, and collaborative attitude to working with other people. He adds that she was not self-seeking or competitive but enjoyed bringing out the best in others- she was interested in and valued every contribution, yet if she disagreed with you, she would let you know in a straight way.  Another colleague has one abiding memory of her formidable and impressive qualities. At Lalage's urging he went (with her) to a conference in Nigeria, her old stomping ground. The campus was sadly decaying, and things obviously in poor shape.  The conference dinner was in a bizarre setting of military opulence, with a row of men sitting on the dais; in her after-dinner speech Lalage managed to combine perfect politeness with a blistering attack on their failure to maintain the place and the lack of educational opportunity.  Her colleague was torn between admiration and fearful anxiety as he scanned their faces.

In the words of one of her African colleagues, Lalage was a trail blazer in the global Adult Education movement. Her commitment to, and insight about, democratic adult education was unbounded. She succeeded in giving Adult and Continuing Education a recognised profile as a major field of education policy in Europe, Africa and beyond.

Lalage had a truly unique gift for people and engaging in the communities in which she found herself. She was a friend and mentor to countless people who loved and admired her. She fought the corner for adult education long after she left the University of Glasgow. Successive Principals received communications from her whenever the provision of courses for the general public came under internal scrutiny. She said she would rather argue with academic colleagues than have adult education funding ‘earmarked’ by government bureaucrats. She kept up the struggle through argument, and an unquenchable hope and vision that universities could be organised by dialogue. 

So many were enriched by having known her, even a little. She is survived by her brother Hugh Bown, two foster daughters Taiwo & Kehinde, her nephews (Dr Jonathan Bown & Professor Matthew Bown, Ashley Bown, Dorian Bown) & neices (Rachel Dale (nee Bown) & Sarah Chapman (nee Bown)).


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Lalage's legacy

This is a wonderful tribute from Robert and captures many aspects of a life truly well-lived. We remember her pioneering work in adult education at the University of Glasgow during her period as Head of the Department of Adult Education, and hope that she would approve of what we are doing now. I was so pleased to be able to invite her back to the university on several occasions after she retired in 1992, and each time she made a contribution to a seminar or conference that stayed vividly in the memories of all who heard her. And everyone always listened avidly, mobile phones cast to one side, because she always had something interesting to say.  We offer our condolences to her family, who we hope we gain some solace from the many messages that are being sent from around the world.

If you want to hear here in action then this link to a contribution she made to the BBC's Woman's Hour almost five years ago serves as a reminder of the ideals that she espoused. 

An iconic forerunner

I have just learnt of the passing of Professor Lalage Bown through the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education (NNCAE) WhatsApp platform and I thought I should hasten to send in my heartfelt condolences to the whole of UK, Lalage's family, the University of Glasgow and many of my colleagues over there. Lalage was an iconic forerunner within the field of adult education who traversed the breadth and length of Africa like a colossus. She established and was instrumental to the establishment of the first generation academic units of adult education in many parts of Africa. I worked closely with her at the University of Lagos, Nigeria in the 80s where she created the first Department of Adult Education and where she went ahead to become one of the most energetic Deans of Education. Professor Lalage Bown set aside time to read my scripts when I began my academic career. She was equally available for illuminating correspondences as recently as 2020. This icon was the gift of the UK to Africa and the world.  

Phenomenal to say the least

Very sad! 

She was indestructible by her manners, they way she took life overall!

She chaired the millennium conference in Oxford organised by UKFIET in 1999 where I gave the keynote on "Poverty, Power, Partnerships in Educational Development: A Post-Victimology Perspective" later on published in Compare: A Journal of international and Comparative Education" in 2001.

She was phenomenal to say the least.


A One-Off

What sad news!  It was only a day or two ago that I posted her Christmas card.  Her death does mark the end of an era in university adult education.  She was just leaving her post as head of what was then the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Zambia when I was appointed to it as Resident Tutor (Eastern Province) in 1974.  We go back a long way!  Lalage will be sorely missed - all over the world.  She really was a one-off.  

So sad at a time when many of us still wanted her around

So sad at a time when many of us still wanted her around. She is the Adult Education Icon in East Africa having founded the then Department of Extra-mural studies at Makerere University College in 1953. 

May her Soul Rest In Peace. If there is any work to be done, I will be available to contribute to her tributes. 

Epitomised the very best of that immediately post-war generation

I think I was in email contact with Lalage or she with me as recently as a fortnight ago. Those of us who had the chance to work with her were privileged in a directly personal way. When she came to Glasgow University I worked with her on a learning programme entitled “what goes on in groups’” through the Scottish Institute of Adult and Continuing Education Training Committee, and later both Gerri and I worked with her on the ALP Book in 1988/89. She chaired the committee which oversaw that work and brought it to fruition as Living Adult Education: Freire in Scotland, published by the Open University Press and SIACE (1989). It was really written by a whole host of people including Lalage herself, Stan Reeves, Fraser Patrick and Fiona McCall, to say nothing of the fine illustrations by Mary McCann and others.

If I were to highlight one special characteristic of Lalage's among so many, it would be her open, friendly, collaborative attitude to working with other people. She was not rivalrous, she enjoyed bringing out the best in others, she was interested in and valued every contribution, yet if she disagreed with you she would let you know in a straight way. And she epitomised the very best of that immediately post-war generation, those people who made the transition from Empire to Commonwealth real by their own being and their own actions.

She should have been made a world leader

Lalage Bown, a trail blazer in global Adult Education movement, was both multi-tasking and multi-talented. She radiated warmth, love, and compassion throughout her life. The life of Lalage Bown thus offers some important lessons.

First, it shows that everything that has a beginning will always have an ending. The young woman of twenty years who graduated in History at Oxford University chose to serve overseas, leaving behind the comfort  and serenity of her environment and people for the more challenging terrain of Africa. She moved from Ghana to Nigeria, to serve in the building of the Department of Extramural Studies at the University College, Ibadan, then to Zambia before moving to Uganda and finally returning to Nigeria, first to the Ahmadu Bello University in the North of Nigeria and back to the South of Nigeria, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lagos before returning to the UK for the last leg of her work.

Another lesson taught by her life is that it is rewarding to support the downtrodden. Her contribution to literacy promotion was part of her conviction that education must be made available to every living person. She made this important point when she delivered the Address to the International Literacy Day celebrations at the UNESCO headquarters in 2009. She was a gentle feminist who believed that women should under no circumstance be marginalised. Yet another lesson was that it is important for academics to be engaged in real life situations. Just like Alan Rogers, Lalage engaged the communities in which she found herself. She was an activist. She served as the founding Secretary of the African Adult Education  Association and as an active participant at the building of the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education. For her role in these institutions, she has received awards and recognitions. A special issue of the journal, Adult Education in Nigeria, was dedicated for the celebration of her birthday in 1997 when she was named the 'mother of Adult Education' in Africa.

Lalage was a team player. She deliberately cultivated the friendship of her colleagues. In Nigeria, she engaged Emmanuel Tugbiyele and S H O Tomori, frontline academic  adult educators, in the training of the adult education professionals. She co-edited a book on Adult Education with S.H.O.Tomori, and another book with J T Okedara, then of the Department of Adult Education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.  She also looked outside the Ivory Towers for the sustenance of adult education movement as she got the likes of S.S. Fatunde of Oyo State and Hamidu Erubu of Ahmadu Bello University, and she worked tirelessly to build a community of adult educators. Lalage believed in the use of the media and Hauwa Yusuf, Head of the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, in Europe was among her latest friends who visited in her small town in the UK. 

She was also an internationalist.  She was an active member of the Roby Kidd-conceived International Council for Adult Education based in Toronto, Canada. She made Syracuse in the United States a home, and built the friendship with the core adult education experts and specialists in that new world. She worked in partnership with the German Adult Education movement and Jakob Horn and Heribert Hinzen were among her regular contacts. Her passion to get the outside world work with the Africa adult education project led, partly, to the publication of the Handbook of Adult Education in West Africa by Hutchinson Press in 1977, supported with funds from the German Adult Education Association. It was therefore a most welcome development when she was deservedly was inscribed into the list of the Hall of Fame of Adult and Continuing Education in the United States.

Lalage as an academic believed firmly in the maintenance of the universal academic gold standard in the discipline of adult education. She insisted that adult education should maintain academic integrity in all the facets of the presentation.  That was one of the reasons universities consistently used her services until she voluntarily pulled back. Her stand gave respectability to the discipline, and we are grateful to her.

In a reaction to her death, Gbolagade Adekanmbi, a Nigerian adult educator who has been  living in Botswana for about three decades,  described the news of her transition as “truly heart-breaking, with a harrowing  search for the right words to describe the depth of the loss”.  That the extent to which the death of this great lady has caused us all grief. My own immediate reaction was to recall the celebration of her birthday at ninety organised by Mike Osborne and his staff in Glasgow when the world of adult education shared views of the many sides of the old woman who remained vigilant and alert to the end. 

She should have been made a world leader to bring peace to an increasingly  troubled world. She was a pacifist that the likes of Roger Boshier of New Zealand/Canada would have appreciated. For me I am eternally  indebted to her for recommending that I be appointed Lecturer at the University of Ibadan to teach the History of Adult Education at the new Adult Education undergraduate programme that was to begin in November 1971. I have remained in that duty since her recommendation was approved by the University Governing Council. 

Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa, Department of Adult Education, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

A whirlwind of energy advice and clarity of thought

I met Lalage when she came back from West Africa to work at the Institute of Development Studies for a year in the mid 1970s, just before succeeding Norman Dees at Glasgow. I was running a small independent adult education centre based in the Quaker meeting house in Brighton and embroiled in political struggles to defend learner centred literacy work. She arrived as ever a whirlwind of energy advice and clarity of thought; radical, disciplined inspiring and determined we should combine internationalism and the pursuit of social justice in our work. For just about forty five years whenever I met her I found the combination of challenge to be rigorous, the encouragement and renewed motivation she inspired life enhancing. At NIACE where she was eagle eyed in ensuring we didn't bend too far to government's will, in UALL, and in the work of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education she fought for democratic rights based education  for all, for respect for diversity and difference and for equality. She was a wonderful colleague - and we were lucky to have her with us.

A formidable worker, a generous friend

Lalage was so important to us, men as well as women, white as well other ethnicities, globally as well as in Glasgow and some of the worlds which comprise Africa.

She was an A1 networker, a formidable worker, a generous friend, and a person of total integrity. She was 11 years my senior but to me even as a young fellow she seemed like a ‘rock of ages’ who ever has been and ever would be.

To me she was the Grande Dame of rural Britain as well as UK ALE,  and of LAE in Black Africa from coast to coast.

She, like Paul Fordham and Alan Tuckett, was a visiting professor at Warwick; and in my role as Editor of the Int J of Univ Adult Education for about 20 years we often worked together. 

I found her footprints so often in East and West Africa, where UK and ACU influences were then so strong - the Marlborough House tendency.

She deserves and we could all benefit from a good biography - is there anyone able to create it?

Combining perfect politeness with a blistering attack

One abiding memory from c 1993/4: at Lalage's urging I went to an AE conference in Nigeria, on her old stomping ground (2 years conference travel money...).  The campus was sadly decaying, and things obviously in very poor shape.  The conference dinner was in a bizarre setting of military opulence, with a row of men sitting on the dais; in her after-dinner speech Lalage managed to combine perfect politeness with a blistering attack on their failure to maintain the place and the lack of educational opportunity.  I was torn between admiration and fearful anxiety as I scanned their faces....

An inspirational speaker

Thanks for your message informing us about the sad passing of Lalage.

She was a remarkable woman and great proponent of a broad view of the importance of adults having access to learning. She was an inspirational speaker and I remember attending a seminar she gave where she had arrived without her notes. Undeterred she spoke from memory about the liberating and transformative outcomes of adult education. 

She inspired us to the core

Words sometimes fail at a moment like this. Lalage seemed so indestructible, a force for life, goodness, generosity, and for the best in adult education.  She was an inspiration to us all. Never ever letting us forget injustice on a local and global scale.

I first met her in Edinburgh, where she was a tour de force in the Scottish Our Right to Learn campaign of the early 80s. I chaired the campaign, for a while, and she was always generous and supportive. When I first moved to work for the WEA in Oxford, she came to visit: we met in the BB and O office, in what was called The Painted Room. It had a mural from Shakespeare’s time.  She smiled with aesthetic pleasure, and then talked about the WEA being more important than ever in the time of Thatcher. She inspired us to the core.

Most recently I saw her again when she supported Colin Kirkwood, in Nottingham, at the launch of his new book on Freire and Staveley. She was like that, generous to colleagues to the end.

I feel we’ve lost a dear friend and comrade. Like others, I shall miss her greatly. 

Mentor, supporter and friend


The adult education community has lost one of her champions.

In her last letter she reminded me that she first came to Germany in 1947 at the age of 20 as a member of a group of British university students to meet with other students from all over Europe to think about a peaceful living together with other nations on the continent. One could imagine her twinkle around her eyes mentioning that they worked day and night in a half-ruined hotel in Bonn-Bad Godesberg where a decade earlier Chamberlain and Hitler met.

Actually our exchange in this letter was around comparing the 100 years celebrations in the UK and the Adult Education Report of 1919 by the Ministry of Reconstruction, and the Volkshochschulen in Germany who became a constitutional matter in 1919. We each had supported the anniversaries in our countries, she as a patron and speaking at many events, and we had to combine it also with the 50 years anniversary of DVV International. I was hoping for deepening the comparative view John Field had started in a journal recently.

Lalage was a close friend of Helmuth Dolff and a strong supporter of DVV (German Adult Education Association). Dollf served as Director General for 25 years and during that time especially in the 1970s they were most successful in building an international adult education movement. Together with Roby Kidd from Canada, Paul Mhaiki from Tanzania and Paul Bertelson from Denmark they initiated the foundation of the International Council for Adult Education in 1973, and Lalage joined as Rapporteur General of the First ICAE World Assembly in Dar es Salaam.

During the 1970s Lalage served as Professor of Adult Education at several African Universities, including Ghana. Together with Olu Tomori she wrote A Handbook of Adult Education for West Africa which was milestone for the adult education field, and supported and widely disseminated by the DVV Africa Bureau in Accra.

Lalage was my first external examiner when I was Director of the DVV Office in Freetown and a Visiting Professor at the University of Sierra Leone in the 1980s. It was a pleasure working with her drawing on her exceptional broad experience working with students and the University administration combining critical comments on dissertations with recommendations for further developments. She was followed-up as external examiner by Paul Fordham. And in her last letter she mentioned living in the same village with Ada who survived Paul, and that she saw her often. 

Heribert Hinzen

A great loss to all

Colin Kirkwood suggested only last week that the next online Fest for the UNESCO Chair in Global Adult Education be dedicated to her. Now we get this sad news. I exchanged emails with her recently. May she rest in peace or as they say these days power. A great loss to all.

A woman of extraordinary commitment and acute insight

At a time of substantial challenge as we were creating and forging the Faculty/School I came to know Lalage. Even though she was emeritus at the time she was still active and engaged, and she was one of a small handful who was immensely supportive of me and irrepressibly positive about our prospects (and wasn’t she right!). She was and those of us who knew her, even a little, have been privileged to have done so.

The mother of adult education in Africa

Although I did not know Lalage as well as many, I feel I must contribute something as a reflection of her lasting contribution to the adult education world in Africa.

In 2005 I ran a workshop funded by the British Academy at Glasgow University, where I worked for a short while in between African countries.  The conference was attended by academics from Nigeria, Malawi and Botswana.  There happened to be a picture of Lalage on a notice board. Every member of the team stopped to look at the face that had made them who they were today.  They asked me to send their greetings to “the mother of adult education in Africa.”  I did of course, mentioning them by name. Lalage said, “Bless them. I remember them all.”  That is some memory and some accolade.

Indominable, intrepid, dedicated, engaging, inclusive ...

Indominable, intrepid, dedicated, engaging, inclusive, imaginative, radical...these are all terms which come to mind when thinking about Lalage. However, there is a phrase which, in other circumstances may seem something of a cliché, but which in her case conveys the essence of her underpinning philosophy- put simply, she was fearless in ‘speaking truth to power’. 

When, in 1992, I had the privilege of being appointed as her successor in Glasgow University as Director and Professor of Adult and Continuing Education I was both delighted and apprehensive in equal measure. Delighted, as DACE (the Department of Adult and Continuing Education) had become, under Lalage’s leadership, not only one of the largest but also one of the most far sighted and innovative departments of its kind in the UK. (Learning from her, I used to remind anyone who would listen that DACE had more adult learner registrations than the University’s entire full-time student population at the time.) I was also rather apprehensive-she had set the bar so high, how might it be possible to ‘follow in her footsteps’?

However, I need not have worried: Lalage’s contribution was so distinctive that she would have been a hard, if not impossible, act for anyone to follow. From the moment she heard of my appointment Lalage was unstinting in her support for the new head of the department in the university that she loved so much. She immediately whisked me off for a few wee drams to celebrate, followed by many great discussions over dinner in our old favorite, the Ubiquitous Chip.

The stories of her time at Glasgow warrant a book in their own right: she looked outward from the university, connecting with the important regional authorities at the time, to the wider community, the media, the City of Glasgow, museums and the like. An annual highlight for her, involved a visit to all the outlying DACE centres throughout the west of Scotland. She also looked inward to the university, working tirelessly to engage with colleagues in all Faculties and Departments about the importance of widening access, promoting lifelong learning, part-time study opportunities and outreach activities. She also played a significant role in the major committees of the university. Her interventions in Senate were legendary- in one account, when there was a disagreement over what she regarded as some minor matter but which some members viewed as a ‘crisis’, she stood up to say, in her typical ‘truth to power’ way, that unless colleagues had shared her experience of being at an equivalent university meeting in Africa when the room they were in was surrounded by an aggressive group of men wielding spears, they had no right to use the term ‘crisis’! 

Her extraordinary charisma was evident in the memories of so many staff and students- plus Glasgow taxi drivers, who all seemed to know ‘The Prof’. But perhaps one of the most memorable occasions was when she was awarded an honorary degree by Glasgow University- a rare honour, of which she was very proud- and her powerful charge to the graduands resulted in a tremendous standing ovation.

I respected, and loved, Lalage, and like many from all over the world, already miss her dearly- we’ve had so many fun times in Glasgow, Shrewsbury and Dublin. Just over two years ago Lalage took the lengthy train and ferry to Dublin to speak at a seminar I hosted on the topic of …learning in later life. Needless to say, she not only stole the show, but kept me up late into the night chatting and drinking- Irish whiskey, rather than her favorite Scotch, but, as ever, she didn’t complain!

Maria Slowey

Professor and Director of Adult and Continuing Education, Glasgow University (1992-2004)

Director, Higher Education Research Centre, (previously VP) Dublin City University (2004-2021)

Her essentially human charisma

Lalage was a universally known and respected figure in the adult education world over many decades. She published widely, she was an indefatigable advocate of liberal adult education, and women’s rights: and she was also an early exponent and practitioner of adult education in Africa. 

All these facets of her considerable achievements are undeniable: but they do not capture, for me, her essentially human charisma. Lalage had that rare and hard to define talent of demanding, by her presence alone, the rapt attention of the whole audience-whether in the Senate chamber, the lecture hall, or the seminar.

She was also great company: many is the ‘wee dram’ or three we have shared-not least a few years ago when she visited us in the Lake District. By that stage she was of course quite elderly: but her enthusiasm for local visits, good conversation and ‘robust’, but always good natured, debate, remained undiminished.

In 1994, Lalage gave the fifteenth Albert Mansbridge Lecture at Leeds University, where I was then Director. It was a memorable event. Her theme was: ‘Learning, Liberty and Social Purpose: A reminder of our radical liberal inheritance in Adult Education and some thoughts on its future’. She drew on her considerable knowledge of the English radical tradition, and focused the first part of her lecture on John Milton. It was an erudite and penetrating analysis of Milton’s vision and its relevance for social purpose adult education in the contemporary world. She then mounted a spirited and detailed defence of ‘voluntary associations’, in particular the WEA (and Mansbridge’s key role in its foundation). The lecture concluded with several pertinent proposals for the future development of radical social purpose adult education.

Rereading this today, it is as fresh as ever-and absolutely relevant to the dark times in which we live.  But it is the unique quality of her delivery of the lecture, and her fervour and commitment that live on in my memory. Lalage was truly a ‘one-off’: she will be hugely missed and mourned. A life well lived indeed.

Dick Taylor

Full of enthusiasm and passion

All Lalage Bown's colleagues, friends and admirers will feel deeply indebted to Robert Hamilton for this fine account of Lalage's life and achievements.

There is universal sadness at Lalage's death.  Everyone who met her personally remembers the impact she made on them, the interest she took in their lives, experiences and ideas, and the effort she made to help and encourage them.  Over the past 40 years I have helped organise numerous conferences at which she has been present. When not herself a keynote speaker (as she often was) Lalage was always first choice to sum up proceedings, and not just because she discharged her task so graciously, never leaving anyone out who deserved thanks or praise.  It was quite as much for her skill at picking out and rehearsing key elements in the discussion and yet challenging participants by reminding them of dimensions of the issue they insufficiently addressed, agendas for future reflection and research.  And afterwards in the bar or over dinner Lalage was invariably the the centre of lively and cheerful conversation, making sure that newcomers were welcomed into the circle and encouraged to say their piece.

Lalage will of course will be remembered as much as a scholar, writer, academic leader, and a lover of books and literature, as a vivacious conversationalist.  For all her charm and outgoing disposition, Lalage was a clear-minded critic who would 'call out' specious arguments and faulty reasoning, so her honest opinions on a piece of writing or a proposed course of actions were sought and valued.  

How prescient were her parents when they named her 'Lalage', meaning chattering or talkative.  Lalage could talk and talk as my wife Julia and I were reminded just ten days ago the very week-end before she had her fatal Monday morning fall.  We found that a friendly 'catch-up' telephone call had lasted nearly an hour by the time it ended and I fear we had badly interrupted Lalage's writing of Christmas cards which she was engaged in when we called.  Conversation ranged over her plans for her Christmas stay with mutual friends, her brother's health and the recent passing of her sister and associated memorial events, her adventures on her last visit to London, her contributions to the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind, the North Shropshire bye-election (she fortunately lived to the following Friday to learn that the outcome was the one she fervently hoped for!), pieces of work she had been reviewing, plans to take family to the pantomime the following week-end, where and when to celebrate her coming 95th birthday, Shrewsbury Rotary Club, whether the conifer in her garden could be saved, the controversial decision of the local planners to approve development of a rather noisy restaurant over her back wall, the prospects of a possible surgical operation on her lungs, asking about our family and sharing news of her own, the support she had received from neighbours during the pandemic.  Full of enthusiasm and passion as ever, interested in everything, phenomenal recall of small details, gratitude for help received, optimism and realism in regard to her future plans to the effect that 'of course I may not be here, but whatever happens I have had a good life'.  She certainly left this life in full flow and in possession of all her mental faculties, with not a trace of self pity regarding the physical strain that all that 'getting about' caused her in her last years.

Personally I only knew Lalage for the second half of her life (and in a select few of her multiple roles and interests), visiting her for the first time in the late 1970s at the University of Lagos.  Because of her commitment to African university development and international exchange she was a natural choice to serve on the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Student Mobility and Higher Education Development when i was Education Director at the Commonwealth Secretariat.  We  later served together as Deputy Chairs of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth during which time she authored several important studies on Commonwealth academic exchange and student mobility, the first forty years of Commonwealth Educational Co-operation and the experiences of English-speaking African countries with regard to introducing universal primary education.  In all these endeavours she worked with a group of co-authors and for many of them it as much the experience of collegial working under Lalage's chairmanship as the final product itself, that lingers in the mind.  At the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, Lalage strove successfully to bring younger people, particularly women from a mixture of ethnic backgrounds, on to a Committee that had been populated by elderly white males.  And equally typical of her, when she felt she had made her contribution she moved on from committee responsibilities while continuing her support and participation in activities.

The professional association through Commonwealth institutions, and spilling over into other fora like the biennial Oxford conferences of the UK Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET) and Ghana School Aid led to close personal friendship; and Lalage often stayed at our homes in Surrey, the Peak District and now Cambridgeshire.  Julia and I feel nothing but gratitude that our lives have been touched and enriched by hers.

Peter Williams
(formerly at University of London Institute of Education and the Commonwealth Secretariat)

Her compassion and spirituality always shone through

It was with a great sadness that I learned of the passing of Lalage Bown last weekend. I was at that time attending a project meeting at the University of Rome when I received the news. Being in a city so endowed with history and culture indeed reminded me of Lalage and my thoughts turned to her great knowledge and skills in so many areas and as an historian, linguist, and adult educator. She was indeed a person who could easily have a word on any subject.

I very clearly remember my first encounter with Lalage at the University of Glasgow in 1981. She had just arrived in Glasgow after having spent most of her earlier working life in Africa. I was at that time a student of town planning and had heard of her international credentials which seemed a great beacon of hope for the university and for internationalisation. I had learned a lot about cities and people in my town planning studies and as a secondary school teacher, was most anxious to learn more about how people’s lives could be transformed through community education and action.  I was ready to hear more and especially what Lalage might say about the role of adult education and (what was then known as) permanent education and its power to transform. I was indeed embarking on a journey which would transform my life and with Lalage at the helm.  She was to capture my interest and enthusiasm and more especially enable me to become an adult learner and educator for change. Lalage was to become my research supervisor, mentor, colleague, and later lifelong friend.  As well as sharing an interest in adult education and lifelong learning, we were both especially interested in literacy and in its power to transform. Our careers were destined to be closely entwined, and we were to become colleagues and friends, keeping in touch with each other each year as well as often meeting at various events both at home and abroad.

It is not just an interest in a common subject that creates a strong bond. Perhaps what struck me most was Lalage’s ability to listen to, engage with and respond to others and to foster the imagination. She was always ready to hear everyone’s story and to empathise with others without judging or taking positions. Her commitment to building a better world also warmed the hearts and minds of many as did her appearances on TV and other media. Her compassion and spirituality always shone through, making her a friend to almost everyone. She was indeed a beacon of light even in the most difficult of times and wherever Lalage was, there was peace and harmony.   Her commitment to improving the lives of the disadvantaged was impeccable and alongside her academic prowess, her exemplary personality, illustrated through her attitude and deeds, was always to shine through.   

 I shall certainly miss her. but can take some comfort in how she has taught me and many others to be human, to be a better person, to see the best in life and to take opportunities in an ever-changing world.

 Rob Mark, Honorary Senior Research Fellow,  University of Glasgow 

Genuinely interested in everyone she spoke to

Sometimes a special individual enters your life and you’re never quite the same for knowing them. So it was with Lalage. An outstanding scholar, standing up for justice, challenging injustice… inspiration to us all. But perhaps what I will remember most about her was that unique ability she had to be genuinely interested in everyone she spoke to. From the most senior academic to the young waiter that served her breakfast on the morning of her 90th birthday celebrations, her interest in the individual was genuine and heartfelt. What a legacy she leaves us. It was a privilege to have spent time with her and if we can all be just a little bit more like Lalage the world will be a better place.

A much loved former colleague

Staff and students at the School of Education were greatly saddened at the death of a much loved former colleague, Professor Emerita Lalage Bown. As the tributes that have poured in since news of her passing show, Lalage touched and changed lives around the world and continued to do so right up until her death. The School of Education is planning an event early in 2022 to mark Lalage’s significant contributions and to celebrate her life. We extend our sincere condolences to Lalage’s family and friends and wide network of former colleagues and students.

Professor Margery McMahon, Head of School of Education, University of Glasgow

Early days at Oxford

I had written to Lalage in March of this year to find out a little about how she got interested in adult education, as I was hoping she would contribute a reflection in a possible book on what had explained her research focus – whether it came from books, people or enabling environments. She explained some of these connections below in a letter of March 2021.

We often invited Lalage to our annual conferences on African Studies in Edinburgh, and she would stay with us. I used particularly to admire her often being the first person to put her hand up to pose a critical question and especially if the speakers had given insufficient attention to the gender and adult education dimensions of their topics,

‘Very best wishes to you both too – with the beginning of Spring. I have kept busy during Lockdown, in spite of constant letters signed “Matt”, i.e. the Min of Health, telling me with ever more superlatives that I’m at risk and mustn’t go out anywhere! I’m just about to get my second jab/jag ……….

Like you, I’m beginning to dispose of books – of course, I gave 2,000 some while ago to help with the Oxford African Studies and more recently gave a heap as part of our BNET donation to the Jos University Library, which had been burnt down. We are contemplating a second consignment to them, so if you have some useful books which Edinburgh don’t need, please let me know.

About my own publications, quite a few were deliberately published in and for Africa, so not easily available in this country.

Don’t know what you want about origins, but when I was an undergraduate and presided over the Oxford University Socialist Club (and briefly as Speaker of the National Youth Parliament), I met several people who had come to university by an adult education route. In fact one was a contemporary of mine at Somerville, who had worked her way through the WEA. And I fell in with a student at Ruskin College (the workers’ college) called Jack Ashley. He came from Wigan and was a member of the Chemical Workers’ Union – later went to Cambridge and became president of the Cambridge Union; I mention him particularly because you might have heard of him – he later became a peer and was profoundly deaf. Also, I was a member of the National Union of Students and I and a Somerville friend ran their Hardships Committee, through which we met all kinds of working people who were struggling at University.  So I already had an interest in Ad Ed as a student, and then got a scholarship for what was the equivalent of a one-year Masters I guess: a practical and theoretical programme run by the Oxford Extra-Mural Dept. My research was on adult education and social and economic development in Africa, with Thomas Hodgkin. I’m afraid I never kept that work! Being at Oxford, I met and read several writers important in their day, e.g. Raymond Williams. Over the years, often living in fairly remote places, I bought a lot of books to try to keep up and also fructify my own  research, especially all the main relevant UNESCO works.

With Love to Pravina (like her I have been glued to the TV following all the US developments. It is frightening to see how many people are mesmerised by a shoddy fool like Trump),



A giant of adult education

I first encountered Lalage on 25 June 1990. I was working in Hong Kong University’s extra-mural department, and had a small grant to research what was happening in British university adult education. She sat with me for an hour or so in her office at Glasgow. I’ve just found my notes: they tell me that she said “she would rather argue with academic colleagues than have adult education funding ‘earmarked’ by government bureaucrats.” (My note is ambiguous as to whether she said “argue” or “struggle”. Perhaps she said both – that would be in character). She kept up the struggle through argument – and an unquenchable hope and vision that, despite all indications to the contrary, universities could be organised by dialogue.

I didn’t meet her again for over twenty years. I was sure she’d have forgotten about me – but she recognised me instantly. She had a gift for people. Another indication of that was when she got herself down from Shrewsbury to Thatcham for Peter Jarvis’s 80th birthday celebration. She made an impromptu speech – much the best of the afternoon – which began along the lines of  “Peter’s 80, but I’m 90!” She continued by praising him for donating his library to Gulu University, and telling us about Gulu and the refugee camps nearby.

She was one of the great figures of British adult education during the second half of the 20th century. We were delighted when she accepted our invitation to be a patron of the Adult Education 100 campaign, and to support the work of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education. She was a very active patron. We knew Lalage, and what she had achieved – but we had no idea how lucky we were. Even in her 90s, this woman was a creative powerhouse. When she joined in the Centenary Commission’s discussions, she was powerful and to the point. She knew we needed arguments to show why adult education matters today. At the same time, she was able to connect our discussions with the past. She was, she told us, ‘one of few people still around who remember the surge of interest in Adult Education after the second world war’ – they had used the 1919 Ministry of Reconstruction Report ‘as our starting text’.

‘I am a capable chairperson and public speaker,’ she wrote, and though well past 90, she travelled from her home in Shrewsbury to Commission and campaign meetings across the country, spreading insight, discussing and debating. She was a realist about what we were likely to achieve in the current state of country and world, but also exuded inveterate good ideas and optimism.

She could draw not only on eleven years as professor of adult and continuing education at Glasgow, and over 20 as vice president of the WEA, but a lifetime of work establishing adult education in African universities. Her work there began in the late 1940s: 80 out of the 104 elected members of Ghana’s first legislative assembly had been members of the extramural classes she and her colleagues had organised and taught. She went on to be a founding professor of adult education at the University of Zambia, and at Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Lagos in Nigeria. 

I last saw her when she came to Nottingham for an event around Colin Kirkwood’s book on community education Staveley – it was on 5th March 2020, just before the lockdown. Her commitment to, and insight about, democratic adult education was unbounded. I’m enriched by having known her, even a little.

She was a giant of adult education, who argued actively and energetically for adult education, and taught adults, in nine decades. 


The world was not ready to lose her

I have only just seen the news of Lalage’s death, which brings great sadness.  Thank you for the wonderful tribute you published, and the others that followed your own.  As a recent past Principal of Somerville College, I met Lalage quite a few times and was always in awe of her.  But it was a benign feeling of awe:  I was always aware of her kind interest, and she was always ready to give helpful advice in the most friendly way.   She sought the help of Somervillians in providing books for the destroyed library that she supported, and she was an inspiration for me in part because she was steadfastly confident that the college and its alumni would always be voices for progress.  Nor did she hesitate to speak up at meetings of alumni and supporters, for the causes that she wanted us to support. Your obituary tells me so much more than I ever knew.  The College will be immensely proud of her, as Jan Royall’s tweet shows.  I feel it was a privilege to know her, and I also feel deprived of the chance to hear so much more from her.  Few people dying in their nineties leave behind such a strong sense that the world was not ready to lose them.

My condolences to all those close friends and family who have lost such an exceptional person from their lives.

Alice Prochaska

Principal of Somerville College Oxford 2010-17, and now Honorary Fellow


Humbleness and Vigour

The loss of madam is a great loss to the field of Adult Education. Her humbleness, vigour and trigger to work for disadvantaged groups is commendable. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved family members. My Prayers for her soul to rest in peace. 

Dr. N. Johnson, Head, Department of Lifelong Learning, Alagappa University 

One of the greats

Lalage was a wonderful person and set an excellent example for all of us engaged in supporting adult learners and those working with them as educators and advocates. Lalage was one of the greats, but never positioned herself in the limelight, she was just there, very impressive as Lalage always was. A great loss, but we will remember Lalage. 

Courage to stand up to inconvenient facts and truths

There are not many people who make packed lecture halls go silent. Professor Lalage Bown was one of them. And one of the kind: inspiring in approach, original in ideas, brave to challenge injustice, yet modest to the core. Our paths crossed briefly at the University of Glasgow, when assisting Professor Mike Osborne, one Lalage’s successors as the Chair in Adult Education, I attended her brief invited talk at her former home, the School of Education. I still remember being struck by the contrast of her physical fragility, as indeed, we met for the first time when Lalage was already in her late eighties, and easiness to connect with a hall packed with postgraduate students, making the event unforgettable to all. Yet, it was a few years later, at the 2019 UK Universities Association for Lifelong Learning annual gathering at the University of Wolverhampton, England, which made me witness the Lalage’s brilliance in action. In times when tech razzle-dazzled presentations have become a norm, here comes Lalage, one of the key-note speakers of the event. She takes a stand in a speaker’s place. I still remember feeling this anticipation and nervousness about why she is not uploading her talk. ‘Maybe she needs help?’, I naively and quite patronizingly, thought to myself. I almost caught myself running to the front with my offer of not-needed support, when Lalage started with a story. As her talks were stories that captured imaginations, hearts and minds. And nothing was the same after Lalage’s talks. This frail human being just bulldogged assumptions and biases, emphasizing injustice and needs for change. Soon after the talk I found myself walking Lalage to a pre-ordered cab. The cab, however, was late, stuck in a local traffic. Minutes and then hours passed, while we disappeared in a conversation about politics, history, education and research, all while sitting outside on a university campus in an early April late afternoon’s sun, sharing a coat together. Blessed be the Wolverhampton traffic hours for this unique gift of time spent with Lalage. In times of global social media exhibitionism, the realness and meaningfulness of Lalage’s life story, combined with her courage to stand up to inconvenient facts and truths, is her much needed legacy for all of us today.  

Exuded such positive energy

We were privileged in 2003 to host Lalage at the Institute for Adult Basic Education, University of South Africa. She came to South Africa as part of a DFID arranged review of our literacy program and we benefited immensely from her insights and her stories. Lalage exuded such positive energy. She was unstoppable, jumping on and off planes as she visited communities and classes in deep rural areas. 

She has indeed left an enduring legacy.

A force of nature

I first met Lalage Bown when I was a part-time student studying for the Diploma in Adult Education at the University of Glasgow. At the time I was working as an Adult Education Tutor with Strathclyde Regional Council. Prof Bown was a force of nature. Her commitment to the importance of adult education for all had considerable influence not only on her students, but on the development of Lifelong Learning approaches in Scotland. During the time I was studying in the department, Prof Bown ensured that those of us working the West of Scotland had the opportunity to engage with students from other countries including in Africa, forcing us to consider the universal need for adult education and how it was important to consider approaches from beyond the bubble which was Scottish education at that time. Like all of her students Lalage had considerable influence on my practice and thinking on the nature of adult education especially when I joined, as an original member of staff, John Wheatley College, which offered the opportunity to put a Lifelong Learning approach into action. Her impact on Strathclyde Regional Council policies had influenced not only the decision to create the new college, but also how adult education was delivered through then Community Education Service. Many of us, as we progressed through our careers, built on the principles which Lalage had set out and used these to inform practice. Recently with some former and current colleagues I was discussing the important figures in adult and community learning. As you would expect Gramsci and Freire were seen as important figures, but all of us who worked Scotland spoke of the important contribution made by Lalage whose impact can still be seen today in adult education principles and practice. Prof Lalage Bown had, and continues to have, considerable influence on adult education and I was fortunate enough to be one of her students.

Alan Sherry OBE

Chair, CLD Standards Council for Scotland

Some stories about Lalage

I have to mention that, although in private Lalage lived up to her (Greek) name of wise "Twitterer", in public she kept strictly to the time allotted to her.  She gave a 20 minute (to the dot) talk to the UN Association in Douglas (IoM) on women's education.  One UNA member appeared unable to distinguish between girls and women.  Lalage put her right in her firmest manner by saying that education for girls had for a large part, though by no means completely, been taken care of worldwide, but women's education had not had nearly as much attention. Another UNA member was a member of the Manx parliament and the next day, inspired by Lalage, presented a strong argument in favour of paying much greater attention to the education of women in all aspects in the Isle of Man - the first part of the UK to have universal (secondary) education in the 1600's.

I am also embedding a few remarks by friends that were gathered for Lalage's 85th Birthday (and my 65th birthday) celebrations in 2012.

Some stories about Lalage from friends on her 85th birthday, 2012


For someone who doesn’t actually drive she is a great navigator.

Except once the mountains changed sides and country roads tend to get narrower... narrower... and even narrower since she remembers going that way on a bicycle or a horse.

Ignore all closed gates, cattle grids and signs saying “Private no entry”.

Val Watson, cousin and ‘chauffeur’, Shrewsbury


It was great to hear that there is, at last, going to be a celebration of Lalage's 85th birthday.

Reflecting on the massive impact Lalage made as Director of Department of Adult and Continuing Education in Glasgow, Frank Pignatelli, then Director of Education at Strathclyde Region (the biggest education authority in Europe) once told me that so committed and effective was Lalage in pursuing the cause of wider access to adult education, that lunch with Lalage never cost him less than £10,000!

Joyce Connon, formerly Scottish Secretary of Workers’ Educational Association, Scotland


After graduation, Lalage’s graduates from the Department of Adult and Continuing Education took her out to dinner.

As soon as their mums, dads and friends realised who their dinner guest was, they treated Lalage like a rock star.  They clapped and cheered when she arrived, telling her how truly wonderful she was, and how her teaching had been transforming.

I've kept her speech and, every so often, read it to remind myself why we do what we do.

Jean Barr, formerly of DACE (Department of Adult and Continuing Education), University of Glasgow


I have lots of cheerful memories of times with Lalage in Nigeria.  I remember very clearly one conference dinner in Ibadan, I think, it was in.

In a room with gold and purple chairs and generally lavish display of opulence, Lalage as the conference speaker discussed the links between adult education and democracy.  Her way was, as always, respectful and diplomatic but forceful and courageous, and I wondered to myself how the authorities responded to her brand of commitment.

I tip my hat to her.

Tom Schuller, formerly of Birkbeck College, University of London, and OECD, Paris


Lalage herself tells a great story of how terrible a driver she was — to the extent that she eventually gave up completely.

Apparently when she was somewhere in Africa she set off by car for dinner at a friend's house some way out of town.  In true Wind in the Willows Mr Toad style she hurtled down the road as she approached the house.  On arrival at the gate she careered full tilt into a concrete block structure which stood at the entrance.  The block obediently split perfectly in the middle.

All this was observed in great astonishment by her hosts from the balcony of the house.

I think they managed to forgive her!

Robert Hamilton, Department of Adult and Continuing Education, University of Glasgow


Lalage once took a taxi home to her flat in Partick from her department in Oakfield Avenue, about a ten minute journey.

On the way she got chatting with the taxi driver.  As a result he signed up for a one year Access Course, completed a degree in Hispanic Studies and wound up living in Brazil married to a Brazilian.

Ten life-changing minutes with Lalage.

Alec MacKinnon, Department of Adult and Continuing Education, University of Glasgow


When I arrived in Glasgow in 1992, the University was awash with stories of Lalage's interventions in Senate*.  At least one of them prompted a spontaneous round of applause from the assembled professoriate when she entered the College Club for her usual post-meeting glass of whisky.

Losing patience with a lengthy, meandering debate about the trivial trials associated with some aspect of university life, Lalage popped up to describe, in graphic detail, the challenge she faced when she tried to deliver an adult education lecture in Africa in a building surrounded by a dangerous bunch of armed men.

No better woman to put notions of 'university hardship' in true perspective!

Maria Slowey, Dublin City University, and formerly of Department of Adult and Continuing Education, University of Glasgow

* Senate has overall responsibility for academic matters in a university.


Shortly after her arrival at the University of Zambia, Lalage took over the African Studies tutorial group I was in, and soon she gave us a question in Economic Development.  I had just returned from studying economics in, then, Czechoslovakia where I grew fascinated by how economics as a subject was structured as a specialization right from the onset.  I used my Czechoslovakian experience to tackle my new professor’s question.

When marking my script, Lalage swore through her teeth; she was convinced that I had ‘lifted’ the material, searched for second opinion from a colleague who concurred.  Having decided to fail me, she felt that she had to caution me from this unbecoming practice only to find that I was no school‒leaver.

Once the mishap was cleared up, she showed genuine interested in my experiences behind the ‘iron curtain’ and I have remained her favourite student and adopted nephew ever since.

Meshack Matshazi, formerly of University of Fort Hare, Eastern Cape, South Africa


I first met Lalage in 1961 when she was just another name on an extra‒mural department file in Uganda.

She was revealed as a committed and determined adult educator and champion of all those without formal learning.  It was also clear that she would be hard to gainsay!

Meeting Lalage in person not only confirmed these first impressions, but has also been a long, stimulating and pleasurable experience over more than thirty years.

We continue.

Paul Fordham (now deceased), neighbour and colleague, Shrewsbury


Lalage visited the death bed of her dear friend, Ieuan Hughes.  Determined to make their last meeting as easy and respectful as possible, Lalage taught herself a long speech in Welsh.

She rehearsed it endlessly, putting the final polish to her recitation on the train from Glasgow.

Arriving at Ieuan’s side, she made her long speech in fluent Welsh, forgetting nothing.  Only to hear him say: “My dear, dear Lalage, I’m afraid my Swahili is a bit rusty” ...

As told by Lalage Bown to Oili Mercer, March 2012


We first met Lalage in the early 1980s shortly after her arrival to the Scottish Institute of Adult and Continuing Education and the Scottish Adult Literacy something or other.  Lalage just appeared, took her place in the firmament with no fuss and the character of this new bright star made itself known.

Lalage’s time in Glasgow coincided with that of the benign and creative ‘brothers’, Vernon Smith and Pablo Foster.  She too was benign, a woman of presence and substance, who beamed out reason, optimism, decency, all other qualities associated with the immediate post-war years; you sensed that you could trust and rely on her.

She embodied good development and supported it by her actions.  She supported our work in the Workers Educational Association and the Adult Learning Project, she had worked in one African country after another, she never seemed weary in well-doing.  She worked hard, she was steady, and she was still there.

Apart from once when she really let it rip (she confronted the Very Unreverend Ian Paisley at the Wigtown Book Festival), she did not seem to have a boiling point.

We remember Lalage’s first speech in Glasgow, her burning enthusiasm for African women in development, her spirited chairing of assorted committees and organising of conferences, and her leadership in producing written works.

Our dear friend and admired colleague is patient, productive (sometimes overly so making it hard for us mere mortals to keep up with), and always 100 per cent engaged on whatever is in front of her.

Lalage had and still has, she was still hard at work ten minutes ago, an irresistibly positively working-together spirit that incorporates the contributions of everybody who want to be involved.  How refreshing that was and always will be.

Although the word ‘lady’ is now avoided, we feel it appropriate for Lalage because of her lifelong consistent support for the British Commonwealth of Nations and UNESCO, which, hopefully, prefigures a World Commonwealth of Nations that will one day emerge.

Here’s to the great lady of world adult education!

Colin and Gerri Kirkwood, friends and colleagues, Glasgow

A True Giant of Africa

I still remember vividly, Lalage (Auntie Lala's) generosity and support when we left Ghana for Zambia, after the life-altering coup d'etat. She had hired our dad as a Senior lecturer in Extra-Mural Studies at UNZA. On our arrival in Lusaka, we found she had set up our new home in Olympia Park to the finest detail, including a well-stocked fridge. On a more personal note, she bought me a powerful telescope for my 13th birthday, which in no small way spurred on my budding interest in science.

The rest, as they say, is history.

She was a true giant of Africa, and her work lives on through her learners and her many children on the continent.

May her soul rest in peace.



Program Director, EAUMF

Editor's Note: Thaddeus, a distinguished psychiatrist and educational leader in the US, was born in Ghana and is the son of the late Edward Ulzen. Edward was a pioneer in African Adult Education. He succeeded Lalage as the head of the African Association for Adult Education, the first full time Secretary General. 

Omuhasi musacha

I am deeply saddened to hear this news. The sadness of the news is only mitigated by the introduction of Prof. Thaddeus Ulzen, whose father I also knew so well and respected for his work. Thank you for sharing.

Lalage was such a towering figure in the adult education movement in Africa. I remember when I went to apply for the job that she had just left at the Centre for Continuing Education, then the Institute for Adult Studies at Makerere, I was told that the job was not suitable for a woman. I looked at Bernard Oyango, the then Registrar and said "but a woman just had this job" . He replied that she was different. Having completed my doctoral research on how empowered women are described in this society, I finally understood what he meant. In this society the highest form of empowerment that describes a woman is that of a woman who is a man, Omuhasi musacha, a women who does anything a man does without thinking twice about it. She was the true embodiment of empowerment. It was an honour to have walked a little part of this journey in her shadow.  May Her Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.    

Thelma Awori


An Extraordinary Life

What I love about African culture is the knowledge that people do not disappear when they die. They enter into the larger kingdom of ancestors with whom we may continue to communicate, seeking advice and just sharing stories.  Lalage as a daughter of Africa remains with us even now sitting in a conversational circle with Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Hodgkin, Nita Barrow and others.  

I first learned about Lalage in 1970 when I was a Doctoral student of African educational systems looking for a place to do my PhD research. She was the Director of Extra-mural Studies at the University of Zambia at the time and through the mail offered me a position there to do my work. In the end, I was offered a position at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania at the Institute of Adult Education. I met Lalage in person in 1971 in Dar es Salaam as we hosted the meeting of the African Association for Adult Education.  Lalage was the Secretary of the AAEA while I was the local organizer on behalf of the Institute of Adult Education.  This was the first international conference that I had ever helped to organize. Lalage flew into Dar es Salaam 4-5 days before the conference. She set up with a typewriter at the University and took my disorganized and messy conference notes and turned them into a very professional looking programme.  She had a remarkable talent for taking fragments of ideas, diverse activities and seemingly divergent perspectives and weaving them into an articulate, coherent and professional paper or policy or report.  She was an institution builder. Her greatest gift in my opinion lay in her ability to gain support at the highest levels of government or academia for the field of adult education. She was a consummate professional. She took the task of academic leadership to the highest level. She was a passionate advocate for the power of adult education. She had remarkable confidence in bringing the need for adult education to Vice-Chancellors, to Ministers of Education and to heads of state.  She often spoke of the responsibility to ‘educate the politicians, an activity that she undertook with enthusiasm. 

I recall at the 1971 meeting that several of the younger generation of African adult educators just getting started in university life thought that by 1971, it might be time for an African to hold the position of Secretary of the AAAE. There was a feeling that there had not been very much reported over the year or two proceeding the gathering in Dar es Salaam. Surely time for a transition? There was some anticipation by the younger folks that the conference upon hearing the report from the Secretary might feel it was time for a change. When the Chair called upon Lalage to deliver her report, the room was filled with an astounding record of activities, accomplishments, challenges and plans. She had delivered a five-star report. When the vote came for Secretary, she was voted in unanimously! She may have white skin, but she was an African and a brilliantly accomplished one at that.

After 1980 when she returned for good to the UK and took up her position at Glasgow, I had less contact with her. She was an active player in the building of the International Council for Adult Education where I was working after leaving Tanzania. She edited the journal Convergence for us following in the footsteps of Edward Hutchinson. 

During the past 15 years my partner Darlene Clover and I were fortunate to have been able to visit with Lalage on numerous occasions at her home in Shrewsbury. We stayed in a guest room which a collection of perhaps 500 books on the shelf above the bed.  We could have stayed there forever! Shrewsbury was the place where she had been raised after her father returned from his days with the Indian Army in Burma. He had been awarded an estate with a manor house and a farm just outside the town itself. Lalage shared her encyclopedic knowledge of the area with us each time we visited. She was a woman of the land. She was as engaged in Shrewsbury and its organizations in her late 80s and early 90s as she had been in the many African communities where she had worked.

The Ancestral Kingdom will be energized, stimulated and entertained by this newer addition. And the rest of us will continue to call on Lalage for stories and advice.

Lalage Bown Oyay Oyay Oyay

Budd Hall, Victoria, January 11, 2022

A touchstone for adult education as a pedagogy

Lalage was one of the warmest and most generous people I have met, and possessed a formidable mind and astuteness about people which I will never forget. She always seemed lit from within to me. I met Lalage in her role as a patron of the Centenary Commission for Adult Education, for which I was a commissioner, which I know John Holford has written about. But I had the great honour in July 2019, at the end of the last face to face SCUTREA conference, of interviewing her, very informally, while she waited in my office for a taxi to take her back to the station. I have the recording and the transcript of the interview. It was a remarkable moment as, as it was so informal and off the cuff, Lalage talked about her time at Oxford and her memories of being there with Tony Benn, Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher, who she was quite unimpressed by. She was very funny and almost mischievous. She was also wonderful on learning to be an adult educator just after the war and the importance of the United Nations. I had the very highest regard for Lalage and, without wishing to be clichéd, she was a genuine inspiration to me and a touchstone for adult education as a pedagogy.  


A lasting inspiration

I joined Glasgow University’s DACE in 1991, at the start of Lalage’s last year as Head. I was appointed primarily to extend the Access programme to science and engineering subjects; also to develop and deliver courses in Astronomy and other sciences in what had become, under Lalage’s leadership, the broadest programme of continuing education among the UK universities. I had worked previously as a researcher in Physics and Astronomy and this was quite a culture change for me – probably much more than I realised at the time. I appreciated her kind concern for new members of staff, for our induction and development, and I was struck by her great enthusiasm for and interest in all the very varied sorts of work that came under the DACE roof.

I’m also struck now, thinking back, by comments she made that have stayed with me, single sentences even that went to the heart of the matter being discussed in a particularly penetrating way. From comments like these I gained a strong sense of the value of adult education, particularly mature student Access. Meeting her in subsequent years you found this acuity undimmed, even into her 90s. 

I’ll always be grateful to Lalage for my admission to the world of adult education. I’m sorry she’s left us but her memory will be a lasting inspiration.

An Academic Inspiration

I met Lalage for the first time when I was a Masters student at Edinburgh c30 years ago. I was struck then by her wisdom, knowledge and passion. I met her at least once a year at various events and she was always an inspiration for how to be as an academic. One particular memory is beng at a conference in Edinburgh marking Kenneth King's career. I had the pleasure to be amongst the last to leave the Southside Bar that night along with Lalage. Like some others here, I met her last in Nottingham just before lockdown. I had a young Ugandan researcher with me (one of George Openjuru's team) and Lalage amazed him with her knowledge of Ugandan society and adult education. I would have been delighted to have been in touch with her just now to tell her that I had joined Glasgow and CRADALL - and I would have loved to hear her account of where Glasgow adult education has come from and where it is going.