Brian Rowley: Founder professor at UEA and backer of Sebald Handbook

PUBLISHED: 13:48 25 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:48 25 January 2013

Brian Rolley, who had died.

Brian Rolley, who had died.


One of the four founder professors at the University of East Anglia’s School of European Literature, Brian Rowley, has died aged 89 after a long illness.

As the university’s first professor of German during his 24-year career, he helped to shape the new department into a leader in the academic field.

He came to Norwich in 1964 having travelled by train for interview, sitting next to another applicant, Norman Riley, who became professor of mathematics. And, remarkably, they bought houses next door to each other on a new estate at Cringleford – becoming neighbours much to their great surprise.

Born in Bolton, Lancashire, his university studies were interrupted when he was called up for Army service in 1941 and selected for an intensive training programme in London to learn Japanese. Posted to the Far East, he was involved in monitoring radio traffic and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1943.

After he was demobbed, he returned to Corpus Christi, Cambridge, reading languages including German. He became a lecturer and then met his wife-to-be, Peggy, then 22, who was an undergraduate at Cambridge.

Once she graduated, they married.

He lectured at University College, London, before moving to Norfolk in 1964, partly because of their mutual love of wildlife, bird watching and the countryside.

Married for almost 60 years, he had cared for his wife for many years after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He was twice dean of the faculty and was also a pro-vice chancellor of the university.

After he formally retired in 1988, he became emeritus professor of European studies. In retirement, he continued to support colleagues and the department and was a generous supporter of a costly project to publish the Sebald Handbook, which was devoted to the noted German author. His fellow academic, Max Sebald, who was at the UEA from 1970 until his sudden death in 2001, became a cult author, partly through books including the Rings of Saturn.

It was typical that despite his age and frailty, he attended this launch on the wettest day of the summer of 2011.

He leaves a widow, Peggy, a son, James, and daughter, Ann, and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Colney Woodland Burial Park on Monday, January 28 at 10.30am.

Michael Pollitt

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