Rhys Evans, who died on August 29 aged 80 of motor neurone disease, was a genuine polymath. Formally a schoolteacher, he was also an adult education tutor, youth worker, linguist, musician, internationalist, hillwalker, cyclist and gifted writer of poems and stories (which he only shared with very few). He was fluent in German and Spanish, managed French and Portuguese, and was at home in either English or Welsh. In 1985 he and I established a city link group between Leicester and Masaya, Nicaragua, which still exists, and in 1999 he set up Strides!, a mental health peer support group.
Rhys was born in Aberystwyth, mid-Wales, the elder child of Ifor Evans, principal of Aberystwyth University, who died when Rhys was 12, and his wife, Ruth (nee Jolles), who qualified as a social worker soon after Ifor’s death. Rhys went to a local primary school, then to an independent school in Oxford.
After studying languages at Cambridge University, and acquiring a diploma in education at Oxford, Rhys taught at Vyners grammar school, Middlesex, and then for two years at Munich University. From 1967 until 1973 he was head of English at Spendlove school, Charlbury, Oxfordshire. He then became the warden of the Wantage Youth and Community Centre in Oxfordshire and for almost a decade was vice-principal at Groby Community College in Leicestershire.
In 1986, increasingly interested in international development, he enrolled on the Peace Studies MA at Bradford University, subsequently visiting Mozambique and Nicaragua to promote UK links. Supporting himself via part-time teaching, school governor training and later his modest pension, he spent the next 30 years in community development and education work of different kinds, often with an international focus.
For 12 years he compiled a weekly internet bulletin, ‘News from Everywhere’, providing alternative perspectives on news stories from around the world primarily for young people. He organised a brigade of young builders to go to Nicaragua, and another to work in Andalusia, Spain with the progressive rural trade union, ‘el SOC’.
From 1992 until 1995, with his partner Naomi Cohen, Rhys was a volunteer trainer in Mexico supporting refugees displaced by violent conflict in Guatemala who wanted to return to their homeland. He went back every summer for ten years to train teachers in the returnee communities.
Back in the UK, he worked in schools and adult education, mainly with marginalised groups with diverse needs. This included English language help for migrants and courses for the visually impaired and those with mental health issues. The latter inspired the setting up of ‘Strides!’ – an 80-strong network in Leicester supporting people with mental ill-health at times of crisis and to avoid loneliness.
Despite these varied achievements, Rhys’s lasting legacy is much more about his wonderfully warm and inspirational personality which made him a magnet for young and old. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he could engage with anyone, anywhere. He adopted causes and campaigns without expecting to be the leader, always offering to do the least popular tasks. In a tribute, a friend said ‘there was no gap between what he believed and what he did’. It can seem trite to comment that someone changed the lives of people he engaged with, but in the case of Rhys Evans it is very apt.
He is survived by Naomi, his children, Joel, Hugh and Martin, from his first marriage, to Anna, which ended in divorce, and seven grandchildren, Edith, Archie, Emily, Harry, Sophie, Katie and Lily.
A slightly shorter version of this appeared in The Guardian.