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Obituary: Henry Rees - 1916 - 2006

Dr Henry ReesWith the death of Dr Henry Rees on 5 February, the last member of the group of local citizens and industrialists who had campaigned for a university in Coventry in the 1950s has left the scene. Dr Rees was an LSE graduate in Geography from before the War who took a PhD in the 1950s, by which time he was a lecturer at Coventry Technical College (at this time the nearest universities were Birmingham and Oxford).

The first advocate of a university in Coventry had been Bishop Gorton in the early 1940s, but his support had always been for a technological university and it was Dr Rees' article in 1953, adopted as a leader by the Coventry Evening Standard, and entitled "Why not a University in Coventry?" which argued for a "complete institution of advanced learning" which really generated debate. However the City Council was not convinced, and the committee set up to further the project was disbanded in 1956.

Two years later, however, there was an announcement of the establishment of a new university in Brighton and Dr Rees was the person who energized the City Council to reconsider the arguments for promoting the university idea in Coventry, and later in Warwickshire. On the advice of the Director of Education he went to see the Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University, Sir Robert Aitken, and most importantly secured his influential support. He lobbied the University Grants Committee (UGC) before any official correspondence had passed between the Committee and the City Council.

But perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to identify the site for the University - he describes how in his book A University is Born (1989).

Henry Rees was a member of the University Promotion Committee and of its inner cabinet, the Executive Committee, and took part in the critical meeting with the UGC. When the Promotion Committee wound itself up in 1965, a few months before the first undergraduate intake, it formally recorded Dr Rees’ role as being: " largely responsible for keeping the idea of the university alive in the 1950s and for helping to bring it forward at the right time to be taken up by the Government."

Henry Rees became a life member of the University Court and was a regular attendee at Court meetings for the rest of his life. He contributed until his late 70s to the University’s Open Studies program and was violinist in the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra for 40 years.

Michael Shattock