Tributes to 'a man of vision'

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Ian Nash and Ben Russell report on the sense of loss following the death of Swindon College principal Clive Brain in Friday's rail disaster.

Tributes poured in this week for Swindon College principal Clive Brain, who was killed in the Southall rail disaster.

Staff were still in shock as the college opened its doors for the new term on Monday after hearing the news of Mr Brain's death over the weekend.

Mr Brain, aged 57, was on the Paddington-bound express travelling to London for a meeting with Association of Colleges' chief executive Roger Ward on Friday. He died when the express collided with a goods train.

Everyone felt they had lost a close and personal friend as much as a professional partner and ally - a man with a singular all-encompassing vision for the further education sector.

Concetta Fiore, a caterer at the college, spoke for all as she said: "Whenever I saw Clive in the corridor, he'd stop and joke and laugh with me and the rest of us.

"I've come to work this morning expecting a normal day, but instead it's turned out to be one of the most terrible days of my life."

Sir Bryan Nicholson, as head of the Manpower Services Commission in the 1980s and ex-president of the CBI and former National Council for Vocational Qualifications chair in the 1990s, came to value his advice.

"Clive Brain was one of the most respected and liked figures in further education," he said. "Swindon College thrived under his leadership and extended its own boundaries successfully into higher education. His memory will live on in what he did for others."

Swindon College vice-principal Mike Hopkins said: "He was warm and informal on a personal level and robust and clear-thinking on a professional one. He successfully embraced the changing culture of further education while drawing on the best practices and values of the past.

"Clive insisted on attending even the smallest student event and took great pleasure in celebrating the success of others and using their example to encourage others.

"He was as committed to the development of a university for Swindon as he was to promoting second-chance opportunities for adults and young people. For Clive Brain, FE not only stood for further education, but for everyone."

Members of the Swindon branch of lecturers' union NATFHE praised him as "a tough but approachable and humane manager who was readily available to discuss professional and indeed personal concerns with any member of his staff. The branch joins his family in mourning the untimely and tragic death of a warm, compassionate man, a community leader and much respected colleague."

Mr Brain was known and respected across the West of England, being heavily involved in the business and civic life of Swindon. His commitment to local activities and to the community informed and shaped his formidable influence on the world of education and training nationally.

He was an influential figure, having served on working groups dealing with training for the MSC and NCVQ.

He led attempts to give a voice to colleges, as a leading figure in the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education and later the Association for Colleges.

Roger Ward, AOC chief executive, said Mr Brain had a strong vision of a single voice for FE which was both professional and caring. "Clive had this vision long before colleges became independent from local authorities. Unlike others who talked of unity and the need to work together in one single representative body, Clive practised unity. He worked hard and selflessly. Not for him the ego of self-promotion."

His untimely death was seen as cruelly ironic since the meeting he was to attend reflected this selfless commitment. Since the formation of the AOC, Mr Brain had taken a less prominent role nationally to concentrate on a Pounds 4 million expansion programme for Swindon College and plans for a new university.

The meeting he was due to attend last Friday was a focus group of principals to thrash out a united response by the AOC to the Government's national inquiry into higher education. It was an invitation he would not and could not refuse.

He was heavily involved in college lobbying over the recent Dearing report, as part of the AOC team which presented further education's case to Sir Ron's committee.

Mr Brain began his career as an assistant lecturer at Bromley College of Technology in the early 1960s. He progressed through the South East London Technical College to Barnfield College in Luton, as head of extra-mural and general studies.

He joined Cassio College, in Watford, in 1974 as head of the department of academic and social studies, before moving to Southampton Technical College as vice-principal two years later.

His first principalship was at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology for four years from 1980. He joined Swindon College as principal in 1984.

John Brennan, policy director for the AOC, was assistant director of education for Wiltshire when he appointed Mr Brain as Swindon College principal. "It was a very successful college under his leadership. He developed a collegiate approach to running the institution which drew everyone in. He was a lovely man, very widely liked and respected."

But equally Mr Brain was a pathfinder, he said, "an innovator" who set up link schemes with industry and training programmes for Ford Motors - starting things which had since become commonplace in FE, he said.

Those he competed with for jobs always became friends not enemies. In the early days, he went for a principalship in Harrow, along with Colin Flint, now principal of Solihull College. "Neither of us got it but we remained close ever since. I have known him for 20 years - no one ever had a bad word to say about Clive."

In 1992 Mr Brain was awarded the OBE for his services to education.

He leaves his wife, Gillian, principal of Salisbury College, and three children, Alex, 17, Rebecca, 24, and Sally, 22.

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