Information | 04.07.2022 | By Teresa Quail

Conrad Arthur Powell 1935-2002


In the June 2002 Magazine Ivan Tucker wrote this piece in memory of Conrad Powell.

It is with sadness that I report the passing of Con Powell, the first President of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf. Con was a leader and an inspiration for many of us in his chosen profession, the education of deaf children. However he set off in a different direction, following a degree in French from Manchester University, aiming to be a manager with Johnson and Johnson the pharmaceutical giant. Fortunately he quickly realised that managing the production of band-aid was not to be his life’s work and he decided he would like to take up teaching. His first post with hearing-impaired children was at Needwood School for Partially Hearing Children near Burton-on-Trent.

In his training for our profession he was outstanding, gaining Distinctions in both his compulsory Teacher of the Deaf training and in his Post-Graduate course training as an audiologist. We had many good times together at Needwood and I particularly remember the sporting and outdoor activities since Con was a talented sportsman in both athletics and rugby – he had run for his county and played rugby at county level too.

In his training for our profession he was outstanding, gaining Distinctions in both his compulsory Teacher of the Deaf training and in his Post-Graduate course training as an audiologist. We had many good times together at Needwood and I particularly remember the sporting and outdoor activities since Con was a talented sportsman in both athletics and rugby – he had run for his county and played rugby at county level too.

After teaching at Needwood, he moved on to a lectureship in the Department of Audiology and Education of the Deaf at Manchester University where many young trainee teachers came under his positive influence. He made many contributions to research and development, especially hearing aid design. He gave a very important paper on hearing aid ergonomics at the International Congress in
Kyoto, Japan, contributed to developments in the design and delivery of satisfactory earmoulds and carried out research on listening levels through hearing aids to design fitting methods helpful to teachers. This was in addition to his important contributions on educational methodology. He then moved on to be Head of Teacher of the Deaf Training at Oxford Polytechnic (later Oxford Brookes University) and ultimately Head of the Department of Educational Development. The year before last he was honoured by Oxford Brookes University when they made him an Honorary Fellow for his contribution to the University and to deaf education.

He was also very much involved in the wider profession. He was a catalyst in the setting up of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf and its first President. He was a founder member and inspiration for the development of the National Aural Group (now renamed, and a major organisation and charity called Delta), and then Chief Executive of another major deafness charity, the Ewing Foundation. He was a Governor of Mary Hare Grammar School and later a Vice-President of the school, Head of Research and specialist adviser during my tenure as Principal.

But these are organisations and places and they convey little of Con Powell the person – always helping families of deaf children to do the best and get the best for their deaf child, helping and advising the teachers and audiologists who support them, advising Government Committees such as that which set the standards for acoustics in classrooms where deaf children are taught. He gave unstintingly of his time and attention to everyone and was always happy to share his wisdom. As one of my friends said, “The number of people who must have gained from knowing him is incalculable”. She also said Con’s warmth and generosity just shone out of him – you could tell if he was in a room or not and when he turned that lovely smile on it just made your day.

Always innovative in everything he did, I remember one of his lessons at Needwood School wondering what he was up to when I saw pupils, in swimming costumes, standing in the school lake. They were up to their chests in water (short ones even deeper!) and had wooden depth markers in order to get average depths in order to help in their calculation of the volume of water in the lake. Not for him solely measuring regular shapes! I can imagine that the exercise would probably be banned on health and safety grounds by many over-protective heads these days. Con believed that education should be exciting – he was supremely gifted in many areas, always pushing to give of his best and demanding that in others – only that they give of their best! His degree may have been in French, but it could have
been in many subjects as his knowledge across a whole raft of subjects was encyclopaedic.

The lives of my family and that of Con’s were intertwined for more than thirty years. Kevin, Con and Sheila’s oldest son, was just a baby when we first met. Our own two children came along and Con and Sheila were god-parents. Over the years we took many holidays together in rented cottages, in caravans, in tents and hotels – the weather was always good! He was certainly an inspiration for me
on one occasion when we were on holiday in Newquay on the Welsh coast. I had never canoed before and by then Con was a keen canoeist. He encouraged me to have a go and showed me how to get in and how to paddle, but unfortunately he didn’t tell me about the pull tab to release the skirt if I needed to get out in a hurry. So out I canoed – doing well – and then turned to come back to shore
and was hit by a huge – he said small – and small it probably was – wave which rolled me over. This did cause consternation on the shore as Katie (very pregnant at the time) watched this upturned canoe with no sign of me for what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds! It also caused some consternation with me! But I did manage to force myself out with only serious injuries – some
modest bruises actually. But here’s the inspirational bit! When we got home I signed on for a ten week Eskimo rolling course and managed to surprise Con on a later holiday on Coniston where I deliberately rolled over and managed to roll myself back up again. I hope readers can indulge me while I just mention another couple of trips we made together.

Sheila, who tragically died of cancer before Con, had always wanted to visit Jerusalem and we went not long before she died. Con, Tony Shaw, David Bellinger and I presented a paper at the International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Tel Aviv and we then linked up with our families for the holiday – what a holiday! Sheila did the research and, armed with appropriate guide books, was determined to see absolutely everything and I think we did! Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Massada, and we walked every inch of Jerusalem’s walls where public access was permitted. That was a wonderful holiday that gave enormous pleasure to them both.

Then the year after Con’s first major operation we went with him to one of our favourite places in Brittany. Eating, which had become a real trial, was no problem, we simply did it very slowly sitting out in the sunny garden with Con’s ‘ghetto blaster’ playing gentle jazz from where it perched precariously on his bedroom windowsill. (How he loved jazz. Many people who read this Magazine and who’ve been anywhere with Con, will recall him saying “I wonder if there is anywhere to listen to jazz here?” and then we would trek over the whole town to find it.) Restaurant meals in the evening too were happy slow affairs – they never seem to rush you there as some English restaurants do as they try to slot in an extra set of diners. With walks along the Rance and trips to Dinard and Dinan, that was a truly happy time for the three of us. He even taught Katie and me some bridge – “I promise I will get better, Con, but bridge is complicated and I do not have your energy at the end of my working day! Your friends at the Bridge Club where you were a stalwart will miss you and they have decided to create the Con Powell Cup for their Christmas competition. You will always be in their memory.” Con loved the village of
Marcham in Oxfordshire and both he and Sheila took an active part in its life. Con was a keen member of Marcham Players and we often went to their productions – not forced, I hasten to add, since the performances were always excellent. Con played the part of Joseph in the Nativity Play in this Church and the part of the Prosecuting Council in the Vigil and in many other productions.Con was always supported by a strong family – his mum Elsie, who survives him, aged 95, Sheila who tolerated the shop talk we constantly had together and supported him, though he worked too much – lovely children Kevin, Tracey, and Gary of whom he was fiercely proud, settled and happy in their lives, and four grandchildren who brought much light to his life especially in the final few months when he was able to spend more time with them.

“It was a distinct privilege to have known Con, to have worked and played with him. Things were always on the move when he was around – he always had a novel idea, something worth trying (always with the rampant optimism that there was absolutely NO good reason why it shouldn’t work!). He filled every moment of the years he was destined to live – not many people can make such a
claim. I thank God for having known him and I know that many others do too.”