Obituary - Dudley Lewin

24th April 2009 at 01:00

The NASUWT teachers' union has long been dogged by its stereotype of bearded, real-ale-drinking members. But when Dudley Lewin joined the National Union of Schoolmasters, it was not yet a stereotype: it was just the way many of them were.

Lewin was born in 1942, in rural Warwickshire. His childhood was typically bucolic: his father mowed the village green, and Dudley was head chorister at church.

As a boy, he wanted to join the police but reconsidered his ambitions after a teacher suggested he might find teaching more rewarding. At the time, it was usually women who became primary teachers: men tended to work in secondaries. But Lewin wanted to teach younger pupils, and was prepared to overlook convention for career satisfaction.

This was readily forthcoming. By the age of 28, he had been appointed headteacher of Stockton Primary, near Rugby, a position he held until retirement.

At school, it was his benevolence that marked him out. Despite being physically imposing, he was invariably gentle. He continued to teach throughout his headship and was interested in all children, regardless of their academic or behavioural record. When no other school would take a child, there was always a place at Stockton.

But the financial rewards of the job were less impressive. Female teachers were not seen as career professionals: many took breaks to raise their children, and did not aspire to headship. And so there was no established pay scale for primary teachers.

Lewin had met his first wife, Wendy, while he was at teaching college. By 1971, they were supporting two young children, Matthew and Sarah. The question of pay therefore became key.

Unlike the dominant National Union of Teachers, the NAS was a union of male teachers. Its members were more active, campaigning to establish a clear path through the profession with proper financial rewards for experience. And so Lewin began volunteering.

As east Warwickshire secretary and president, positions he held alternately for years, he fought for pay to increase with seniority and responsibility. Above all, he believed that better pay would help to raise the profile and standing of the profession.

As times changed, female teachers also saw the benefits of extra pay for extra responsibility. And so the NAS merged with the National Union of Women Teachers, Lewin helping to negotiate plans for the boys' club to take in women. Later, he joined the union's national executive, running training workshops around the country. This was what he most enjoyed about union work: meeting people and helping them tackle their problems.

After school, he would regularly drive for two and a half hours to Hereford for meetings. Other union business took him around Warwickshire, where shop-talk would inevitably be followed by trips to the pub. Lewin would joke that there were few pubs in the county where they had not had a post-meeting pint or two of real ale.

In what little spare time remained, he sang regularly in a local choir. This was how he met his second wife, Edna, and they married in 1996. He was also a devoted petanque player. As well as setting up several local clubs, he twice held the presidency of the British Petanque Association.

Eventually, this relentless activity took its toll: in 1990, he suffered a heart attack at a union committee meeting. But it was not until 1998 that he retired and he and Edna began to spend more time at their holiday home in Bordeaux.

But his gregariousness remained and was still visible when he attended a Christmas party in Norfolk last year. Several nights later, he fell asleep in his chair while watching television. He did not wake up.

Dudley Lewin, 66, is survived by his wife Edna, two children and two grandchildren.

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