Brian McGowan, who has died aged 53 after a long illness, was a charismatic and inspiring teacher, loved and respected by his many friends and colleagues.
At La Sainte Union school, Highgate, north London, where he taught from 2005 until 2014, he was known for his thought-provoking assemblies, the depth of his knowledge and his unrelenting support for his students; he was particularly keen on helping students from less privileged backgrounds to enter top universities.
Brian maintained these skills in senior roles elsewhere, notably at Hackney New school from 2015, where he had an unforgettable impact as assistant headteacher, head of history and director of sixth form. Students could throw anything at him, and he remained professional, caring and patient. His last roles were as head of sixth form and assistant headteacher at St Angela’s Ursuline school, Forest Gate, from 2020.
The youngest of three children of Patsy (nee Helferty), a school lunchtime supervisor, and Jim, an engineer and industrial foreman, Brian was educated at St Columb’s college, Derry. Having begun studying law at Manchester Polytechnic, he then completed a degree in Italian and French at the University of Manchester, including a year in Rome that kicked off his teaching career and inspired his passion for Italy. After teacher training at Bristol University, he took up a post in 1995 at Peter Symonds college, Winchester, Hampshire, where he quickly earned a reputation as a staff-room raconteur.
Though Brian initially taught French and Italian, he established himself as an accomplished teacher of history and politics, in which he had strong personal interests. Indeed, his fascination with complex topics and deep subject knowledge were mirrored in extracurricular fields. He was a valued quiz-team member, with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of football and psephological matters.
A passionate Manchester United fan, he stoically endured the roar of the Man City crowd audible in our student house near Maine Road. His other team was Derry City, whose 1980s return to senior football he had witnessed firsthand, and who won the FAI cup final on the day of his death.
In Islington, Brian – a dedicated socialist – campaigned regularly on the doorstep. He signed nomination papers for the “Literal Democrat” candidate Richard Huggett in the 1997 Winchester byelection.
Brian met his future wife, Livia Harris, a fellow teacher, at La Sainte Union, and they married in 2007. She survives him, along with their daughters, Tilly and Cecilia, and his siblings, Paul and Donna.
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