Weekly Local Biography

 Roy Lewis

The new Head of School at the Lanna International School is a quiet Englishman, Roy Lewis. Yet behind the British reserve there is a man who has travelled the globe extensively. He has lived in Arctic Norway, worked in Africa, Chile and Turkey and is a committed environmentalist who believes that the diverse world that he has experienced has bolstered his belief in the goodness of man.

Roy was born in London, UK, the son of a gas engineer. He was a good student, and finished his secondary education at Chichester High School, one of the best state run schools in England. He wanted to study geography at the tertiary level. “I knew I wanted to study geography for all the wrong reasons - an inspirational teacher,” he said.

Rightly or otherwise, he went to Manchester University to study geography - a three year course. Having graduated, the inspiration was still burning brightly and he applied to do research for the following three years. “It was into the processes associated with patches of snow in Arctic Norway,” he told my disbelieving ears! To do this research involved his building his own cabin above the tree line in the Arctic and suffering extreme privations, let alone the freezing cold. “The locals though I was mad. In retrospect, in many ways, yes!” he said, laughing at himself.

After the three year self-imposed refrigeration he applied for an academic posting as a glacial geomorphologist, but the world was not all that needy, and so he looked around for something else. “I drifted into school teaching, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it!” And what did he teach? Geography and Geology, the two subjects he really knew.

He rose very quickly in the new profession, becoming head of department before he moved to Bristol, to teach in the grammar school there. During his seven years tenure in Bristol he began going on safaris to Africa. He had always had a great love for African wildlife and became a regular on overland trips. In this way he got to become acquainted with Zaire and Rwanda, and also became acquainted with the courier/cook on the safari. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach they say, and that cook must have been a good one, as she is now Mrs. Lewis.

With both of them enjoying the African continent, Roy began looking for employment there and took the post of academic administrator for the opening of a new school in Bophuthatswana (Mafeking). They stayed there for six years before the wanderlust and the thoughts of new geography to explore became too much and they went to Santiago in Chile for a short contract and then on to Ankara in Turkey.

He enjoyed Ankara, but had started to explore SE Asia on holidays, coming to Chiang Mai as a tourist in 2002. They liked what they saw and when fate, in the form of Chiang Mai resident, Harry Deelman, who runs a teacher placement agency introduced the concept of working in Chiang Mai, they took it. “We were going to come back for another holiday,” he said. So here they are. “They” covers Roy and his wife, their cat which adopted them in Ankara 18 months ago, and their dog which came from South Africa to Turkey to Thailand.

Having had the run-down on the animals, I asked Roy about children, but as they married late in life they have decided against having any. “It’s a regret,” he said, “but I don’t sit and contemplate it for any great length of time. Anyway, I’ve got 182 (Lanna International) children instead.”

Now they are here, he is looking forward to exploring Chiang Mai further and Thailand itself and then on to SE Asia as a whole. “It’s very much a geographer’s assessment. I want to go to the Himalayas. I used to do a lot of trekking and my wife and I have a fascination for Bhutan and a great love of wildlife.”

That love of wildlife is such that when I asked him about highlights in his life he replied, “Highlights? The joy of watching animals. Elephants with babies being chastised at water holes. This is a joy.” This was all said without any self-consciousness at all. Roy Lewis does feel for the natural world around him.

His hopes for the school are to develop the secondary school and give it more focus while developing a suitable curriculum. He also wants to develop the environmental aspects of the school curriculum, and admits to personally being an environmentalist. Having spent three years researching in the Norwegian environment did not apparently dampen his enthusiasm. (I’m sure it would have done more than dampen mine!)

He holds strong views on teacher appointments and maximizing their potential within the school. “It takes a good year to settle into a new school. I have never believed in two year contracts, because to get the most out of a teacher, and give the best to a school, it takes more than two years.” Taking this further, he wants his own appointment to be a long term one, so that he can carry out his ideas in education as well. “You have to develop that ‘thirst’ (for knowledge) amongst the children,” he said. Looking back at his own life - that ‘thirst’ that was produced by an inspirational teacher was not, I believe, sending him on his life’s course “for all the wrong reasons” but for all the right ones.

He believes that the ordinary person in the developing world has a wonderful respect for education, which unfortunately is not necessarily so in the UK. “It’s sad that I no longer wish to work in the UK, the country that did give me my education.”

Sad indeed, but we should look upon it as fortunate that Chiang Mai can attract educators of the calibre of Roy Lewis, a man who does believe in the goodness of mankind. We need more people like Roy Lewis.