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.