Monday, 13 February 2017
Leonard (Len) Webb, Bursar, Bulmershe College 1965-1988; Senior Assistant Bursar, University of Reading 1989-1993 died at home of natural causes on 7 February 2017.
Generations of staff colleagues and students will be saddened to hear of the passing of Len Webb. (Typically he insisted on the shortened form, Len, considering his given name pretentious which he most certainly was not). .
Born and brought up in a working class area of Manchester during the great Depression of the 20’s and early 30’s, Len remained unashamed, modestly proud even, of his origins. He never forgot the deprivations and suffering around him, and developed a sympathy for others, especially the under-privileged and disadvantaged, which he never lost. His intelligence showed itself in early childhood and he won a place at Stand Grammar, a school of good reputation which, however, failed totally to fire his enthusiasm. Conditioned by the unemployment around him, he found much of the traditional curriculum irrelevant for the ‘real world’ as he saw it and the prospect of a safe job. Because of his natural ability he nevertheless achieved a good School Certificate, left school at 16 and was launched. His professional life devoted to the administration of Education began as junior clerk (office boy) at the Manchester Institute of Technology, Within days he became aware of the inefficiency of the way the post (snail mail) was distributed throughout the organisation, mentioned it to his superior who promptly adopted it as his own idea and had the change adopted. Len began to understand his real world . . .
Frustrated by the limitations of his role and in need of a better salary to support his wife and family, he took the momentous decision to leave his beloved North-West for what he had been brought up to consider the soft and over-privileged South . He found to his surprise, and freely admitted it, that people are much the same wherever, and the climate in the Reading area would certainly be more agreeable than that of the Manchester conurbation. He had been appointed to the Berkshire LEA as Administrative Assistant (Further Education) and was soon, inter alia, playing the key role in the development of FE in those heady days of more than adequate funding. Meantime, through several years of dogged and diligent attendance at evening classes, he had achieved that relevant qualification to which he aspired - the degree-equivalent DMA (Diploma in Municipal Administration).
Unsurprisingly, given his known achievements, his application for the post of Bursar at the year-old Bulmershe College was successful. He soon so impressed the Principal and senior colleagues that he was quite exceptionally made a full member of the Academic Board where his expertise, clear-thinking and objective guidance were vastly appreciated. He had the rare and invaluable knack of producing realistic and creative solutions to many an academic flight of fancy! Serving as Clerk to the Governors he was frequently complimented by the Chairman, Mrs Barbara Sheasby, for his contribution to the continuing success of the college.
His appointment to the University on the merger of the two institutions in 1989, as a member of the Bursar’s staff, was to underline his qualities and value almost at once. Vice-Chancellor, Dr Ewan Page and Bursar, Robert Arscott, were much concerned about the perceived financial problems of the Students’ Union and Len was assigned the task, thought probably impossible, of ‘sorting them out’. Based on his years of user-friendliness (before the term had been invented) he at once established the essential rapport with the student leaders who felt able to react positively to his intervention and followed his advice to the letter. The affairs were in a mess simply out of financial lack of experience, not misappropriation. Len neatly and quickly sorted out the confusion and devised appropriate systems for the future, in addition to the obvious advice to abandon DIY and hire an accountant. Len was now a star in the eyes of his senior colleagues and of the students alike.
In recognition of his services to Education and his own scholarship, Len was awarded the Honorary Degree of M.Phil in 1993. As Dean I was privileged to give the address and present Len to the then Chancellor, Lord Carrington, who left an indelible impression on Len by seeking him out to discuss his research at the formal lunch which followed the ceremony
Much to his surprise considering his lack of enthusiasm for his schooling and the unreal world of the academics as he saw it, Len had by now found a lasting love of scholarship. In his late father’s affairs he had come across a diary written in the trenches in 1917 . And so from the late 80s for some 20 years, he drove to London every Monday and spent a day in the Public Records Office at Kew, the Imperial War Museum and various libraries to consult primary and other sources, all with the scrupulousness of a trained researcher. He also paid frequent visits to Northern France and Belgium and the battlefields themselves. Some of his work has appeared in printed publications of this University.
To summarise : a multi-talented person, Len was above all a genuine, thoroughly good human being. A professed atheist, he nevertheless embodied true Christian ethical and moral values. He was a facilitator, an enabler who was to spend some 70 years of his life devoted to the service of others.
From his mid-twenties he was wonderfully supported by his devoted wife Kath until her death after more than 60 years of happy marriage. Len is survived by their sons John and Geoff, who have gone on in their turn to be successful professionally, to have sound values shared by their wives. Both stable marriages have been blessed with children, all of whom were devoted to their father and grandfather.
May Len now rest in well-deserved peace, having affected so many lives, so positively, by so much.
Former Dean of the Faculty of Education and Community Studies