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Kevin Reilly

Brian Heaton, BA

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 11 October 2015, of Brian Heaton, former Director of the English Language Unit, at the age of 83.   The following obituary has been contributed by Brian’s former colleagues and son, Michael.

Brian was a graduate of the University of Leeds (1949-53) who returned in 1968 when appointed to the post of Lecturer in English for Overseas Students in the Institute of Education. His success in this role is evidenced by the fact that, when Brian took early retirement in 1991, his original situation – one person, one room, funded centrally by the University – had grown into the free-standing English Language Unit, with a large teaching and support team occupying its own building on Willow Terrace, earning significant income from specialist English language teaching services to underwrite the support offered to the university’s international student population.

Between his graduation and return to Leeds, Brian worked for the Education Department in Hong Kong and became expert in the teaching of English as a foreign language, a field of activity far less known in those days than it is today. While working for the University, Brian was a pioneer in the development of teaching materials and methods relevant to the skills needs of international students. Leeds (in other words, Brian) was in 1972 a co-founder of the national professional network Specialist English Language Materials for University Students (SELMOUS) which later became the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP).  His wide-ranging experience of different cultures enabled him to foster a sense of community and shared goals among international students from very diverse backgrounds.

Already a published writer of English language teaching materials whilst in Hong Kong, Brian became in due course a prolific, globally renowned and indeed best-selling author of coursebooks and support materials. Having devised and introduced in 1971 a relevant English test for all international students entering Leeds University (so as to identify those most in need of assistance), Brian went on to become an expert in English language proficiency testing more generally, and was invited by the British Council to take part in numerous short-course professional training programmes, principally in Europe. On secondment, he was a Visiting Professor first in Singapore (late 1970s) and later in Japan (mid-1980s).

Brian will be remembered by colleagues who worked with him in the English Language Unit for his kindness, generosity, good nature and quirky humour. He was always generous with his time whenever colleagues wished to talk to him, ever ready to offer support and encouragement. Indeed, many English language teaching professionals, retired or still active, in Britain and abroad, will recall moments in their lives when Brian helped them to progress and develop. He played a more formal role in teacher education at Leeds in the early 1970s, contributing a key component in methodology to the University’s Postgraduate Diploma in (Teaching) English as a Second/Foreign Language.

None of these professional activities stood in the way of Brian’s wider interests and involvements, which included music and painting (particularly the practice of Chinese brush painting, but also landscapes in other media) as well as family and a wide circle of friends. Many will recall the hospitality offered at Brian and Elisa’s home, or at the Polish Club and other venues in Leeds.

Brian’s funeral will be held on Saturday 17 October at 1 pm at the Church of Immaculate Conception, Sicklinghall, LS22 4BD (between Harrogate and Wetherby). No flowers, please: donations to Dementia UK would be much appreciated. Friends are welcome to gather afterwards at the family home, Heusden, in Weeton (LS17 0AN) for refreshments and to share memories of all the happy times in Brian’s life.