[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J20, 1996/1 p3]
[See also Bob Brown's Pamflet 13, Personal View 1, Newsletters.]

BOB BROWN: a Tribute

by Chris Upward.

foto of Bob Brown. It was with profound shock that the Simplified Spelling Society learnt of the tragic, sudden death in Zürich at the age of 51 of its Secretary, Bob Brown, on 13 June 1996. Seven committee members and SSS President, Professor Donald Scragg, paid their last respects at Bob's funeral on 28 June. If the SSS has enjoyed something of a revival in the 1990s, much of the credit must go to Bob, whose contribution to our effectiveness was major in several important respects.

Born and educated in Cheshire in the northwest of England, Bob was involved during his career with television, telecommunications, information technology, management, and marketing, and he wrote several books for computer users. His involvement with the SSS antedated that of any other member of the present committee. He first joined in the early 1970s (we have his signature on the attendance lists for the AGMs of 1973, 1974 and 1975), in the aftermath of the dispute as to whether the Initial Teaching Alphabet or New Spelling should be the SSS's flagship system. However, Bob's work often took him overseas, with periods in Africa, Denmark and from 1987 Japan, and it was not until 1990 that, on returning to the UK, he was able to resume his active connection with the SSS. With Laurie Fennelly's retirement from the post of Secretary imminent, Bob's offer to step into the breach was gladly accepted, as from April 1991. His willingness to combine the demanding roles of General Secretary and Membership Secretary was particularly appreciated.

Bob's efficiency, energy and enthusiasm were at once apparent. Meetings were meticulously planned and minuted. With his friendly, patient and relaxed manner, he encouraged and gave support to many members in presenting their contributions to best advantage. His production of the 'Personal View' series of papers, starting with his own, gave an outlet for members to publish their ideas, a process further refined by his assistance to Paul Fletcher in developing a systematic Spelling Evaluation procedure. The Newsletters Bob produced were models of typographical professionalism, and full of lively, practical and forward-looking ideas that complemented the more academic Journal, as well as showing his own talent as a researcher. His urging expedited the revision of the Cut Spelling Handbook and publication of its second edition. His experience of legal and financial affairs enabled him to push the Society's case for charitable status and, in conjunction with SSS Research Director Gwenllian Thorstad, to advise on grant applications. His expertise in information technology and current business practice, as well as his international experience, helped the SSS raise its publishing standards and establish a growing network of email contacts around the world and a presence on the Internet. He would have had much more to give in that sphere if he had lived. All in all, Bob personified the interdisciplinary nature of the spelling reform project.

Bob had an original mind, but his success in giving coherent guidance to the disparate independent spirits that make up the SSS was no doubt partly due to his reticence in putting forward his own ideas. Unlike many members, he was not wedded to a single scheme, indeed his own views of what might be the most desirable or practical kinds of spelling reform were rarely if ever articulated. Yet this very detachment fitted him perfectly for the SSS's role today, which is to debate and research contrasting concepts of spelling reform and to propagate a raft of possibilities (the SSS's insistence on what it saw as the only possible ideal scheme in the past had proved a recipe for fruitless dissension). It was this same detachment, as well as his wider linguistic interests (which included Basic English and E-prime, two systems for ensuring clear, simple expression) that enabled him to produce one of the Society's most valuable publications, his survey Spelling Reform in context: a typology, list & bibliography of English spelling reforms.

As it happened, Bob was on the brink of resignation as Secretary when he died, as his work was again about to send him abroad, this time to Switzerland, and some steps had already been taken to ensure the SSS's work would continue smoothly after his departure (Jean Hutchins takes over as Membership Secretary and Ron Footer as Meetings Secretary). But Bob had hoped to maintain his links with the SSS (via email, at the very least), and no one dreamt that he had made his last contribution to its cause. Bob was in the prime of life, and the SSS feels his loss not only for its own functioning, but also for the frustration of his own hopes and ambitions.

Our deepest sympathy goes out to Bob's widow Atsuko, with whom he was developing an Anglo-Japanese translation business. Those of us who worked most closely with him were well aware of her supportive presence, and indeed she was collaborating on an Anglo-Japanese literacy project run by SSS Chairman Chris Jolly. English spelling reform is a world enterprise, and it would be good to think of her as part of its Japanese dimension.

We reflect that many generations have passed in pursuit of English spelling reform, and that more may yet pass before a significant breakthrough is achieved. Bob gave much to the process during the years he was with us, and our greatest tribute to him would be to try and emulate the skills and wisdom he displayed.

Back to the top.