Other lives

Kwame Owusu-Bem­pah

The Guardian - - OBITUARIES - Den­nis Howitt Maev Kennedy

Kwame Owusu-Bem­pah, who has died of can­cer aged 72, un­der­took a rare jour­ney from a vil­lage child­hood in colo­nial Ghana to a po­si­tion as an aca­demic of dis­tinc­tion in the UK.

Born in Akokofe, near Ku­masi, Ghana’s sec­ond city, Bem­pah (he was never known as Kwame), the son of farm­ers, had a love of study. He was an aca­dem­i­cally gifted child and pro­gressed to study at the Bri­tish sem­i­nary near Cape Coast, many miles from his home. Be­ing away from his fam­ily taught him in­de­pen­dence, and the art of cre­at­ing new fam­i­lies around him­self wher­ever he went.

Af­ter school, Bem­pah worked in the Ghana­ian civil ser­vice for a while be­fore board­ing a plane for the UK and em­bark­ing on a ca­reer in nurs­ing.

In 1974, he be­came an un­der­grad­u­ate at Leeds Univer­sity, study­ing psy­chol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy. He went on to ob­tain a master’s in health ser­vices stud­ies in 1979. He then be­came a doc­toral stu­dent at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity in the depart­ment of so­cial sciences, and sup­ported him­self do­ing nurs­ing night­work. In 1983, Bem­pah was awarded a PhD for his the­sis in the use of self-mod­el­ling in chang­ing eat­ing, smok­ing and eye­blink­ing be­hav­iours.

He then ran the Le­ices­ter­shire Race Aware­ness Con­sor­tium, pro­vid­ing an­tiracism train­ing to lo­cal author­i­ties and other or­gan­i­sa­tions. He also shared his in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to iden­ti­fy­ing and tack­ling racism in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines.

In 1990, Bem­pah be­came lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy in the school of so­cial work at Leicester Univer­sity, where he was later pro­moted to reader. In ad­di­tion to many ar­ti­cles and chap­ters, Bem­pah wrote sev­eral books: The Racism of Psy­chol­ogy (1994) and Psy­chol­ogy Be­yond Western Per­spec­tives (2000), Chil­dren and Sep­a­ra­tion (2007) and The Well­be­ing of Chil­dren in Care (2010).

He in­tro­duced the idea of so­cio­ge­nealog­i­cal con­nect­ed­ness, partly be­cause he knew that in less de­vel­oped economies the care of chil­dren sep­a­rated from their par­ents was largely un­prob­lem­atic. It was a labour of love and stim­u­lated also by his ex­pe­ri­ence as a par­ent sep­a­rated by thou­sands of miles from his own chil­dren, while they lived in Canada with their mother, his for­mer part­ner.

Bem­pah had an ad­ven­tur­ous spirit. In 1999, he took up roller-skat­ing as a hobby, which he en­joyed for many years. Af­ter retiring from teach­ing in 2009, he spent the win­ters back­pack­ing by him­self through Asia and South Amer­ica.

Ev­ery­thing about Bem­pah re­flected his love of or­di­nary peo­ple and their lives. His friends were fam­ily and en­joyed his love, care, help and sup­port. Bem­pah was a much-loved char­ac­ter, will­ing to fight fiercely for what was right.

He is sur­vived by his chil­dren, Ak­wasi and Abe­naa. My friend Henry Lewis, who has died aged 70, was a happy soul who woke up hum­ming and of­ten sang his way through the day – some­times de­liv­er­ing ren­di­tions of his own songs, though he could also im­i­tate a whistling ket­tle or the Ra­dio 4 time pips.

Henry wrote sharp, satir­i­cal mu­si­cals about life, rail­ways, the en­vi­ron­ment and wind farms, which half a cen­tury ear­lier might have made him much bet­ter known. In the late 20th cen­tury they usu­ally had short runs in pubs or church halls, and lost money. Each time he would ex­press mild sur­prise and mo­men­tary sad­ness, then shake him­self down and start again.

I first met him in 1988, hold­ing a flam­ing torch at one of the protests against the con­struc­tion of the Chan­nel tun­nel rail link in Kent. He told me that he was the au­thor of the mu­si­cal Scott of the South Cir­cu­lar, and that he was writ­ing a show about the tun­nel. That mu­si­cal, Joan of Kent, was one of his most suc­cess­ful. The mag­a­zine Time Out called it “ec­cen­tri­cally Bri­tish, thor­oughly up­lift­ing, this won­der­ful mu­si­cal”, but, as so of­ten, his po­lit­i­cal pur­pose – op­po­si­tion to the carv­ing up of beau­ti­ful coun­try­side – was de­railed by his love of a good tune and in­deed by his love of rail­ways. The song that the au­di­ence al­ways came out hum­ming was the heroic an­them of the rail­way builders.

Henry was born to Evan Lewis and his wife, Madge (nee Pilk­ing­ton), in Chich­ester, West Sus­sex, where his fa­ther had be­come a farmer on his re­tire­ment from the RAF as a group cap­tain. He was ed­u­cated at Radley col­lege, Ox­ford­shire, where he re­called pick­ing daisies in the out­field as his mother ar­rived dur­ing a cru­cial cricket match, and Mill­field sixth form in Som­er­set, be­fore im­prob­a­bly de­cid­ing to take busi­ness stud­ies at Guild­ford Tech­ni­cal Col­lege.

In the 1970s he founded the Bed­lam shops, which sold mod­ish pine and wa­ter beds, as well as beds sus­pended by chains from the ceil­ing – he kept one in his flat in Prim­rose Hill, Lon­don, where sleep­ing in it was like be­ing rocked in a cra­dle. By the time the shops closed in the re­ces­sion of the late 70s, he had found his true vo­ca­tion in writ­ing mu­si­cals.

He loved the coun­try­side and was an epic walker. In 2009 he bought a cot­tage at Lland­darog, Car­marthen­shire, where typ­i­cally he promptly wrote a show, Trybl Y Twr, to raise money for the spire ap­peal at St Twrog’s church.

Henry loved de­vis­ing en­ter­tain­ments of all sorts for his friends: walk­ing past mil­lion­aires’ homes in Chelsea or Hamp­stead, I still play the game he in­vented of hav­ing to choose which house­hold you could most and least bear to join for sup­per solely on the ba­sis of their cur­tains and what they kept on their win­dow sills.

He is sur­vived by his sis­ters, El­iz­a­beth and Lynette, and by his brother, John.

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