Gaynor Cohen obituary

My mother, Gaynor Cohen, who has died aged 84, was an anthropologist, writer, academic and civil servant, whose work focused on education and employment.

She was born in Llansamlet, near Swansea, an only child brought up in a Welsh-speaking, chapel-based community. Her mother, Doris (nee Roberts), was a piano teacher and also chapel organist; her father, Llewellyn Jones, worked in the accounting department of BP and was the chapel deacon.

After attending Swansea high school for girls, Gay went to Manchester University in 1956 to study for a BA in social administration and social anthropology. It was in the anthropology department that she met Abner Cohen. They married in 1960.

Having begun working as a child care officer, Gay moved to London in 1961 so Abner could take up a lectureship at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. She was not only the main carer for their three children but accompanied Abner on field trips to Nigeria (1961-63), Ithaca, New York (1965-67) and Sierra Leone (1969-1970), contributing to his research and conducting her own fieldwork.

In 1973 she completed a PhD in social anthropology at the University of Surrey while still looking after her children and lecturing in sociology at the Open University and Brunel University. Her thesis compared professional recruitment between middle-class groups in Sierra Leone and London.

In 1975 Gay entered the civil service as a senior lecturer in social policy, delivering courses and publications on equal opportunities, social change and urban policy.

Between 1978 and 1979, Gay and Abner went to California, where Abner worked at Stanford University and Gaynor researched bilingual education and youth employment among Mexican Americans, and completed an MA in education policy, also at Stanford University. Back in the UK, she was seconded from the civil service in 1985 to become an adviser for the Department of Education and Employment, working on technical and vocational education policy.

After relocating to Oxford, Gay retired in 1995 to care for Abner, who was living with Parkinson’s disease. She collaborated with him on research about Welsh identity and worked tirelessly to ensure he could continue to participate in academia and keep in touch with their many friends.

Gay was the heart and soul of family life. She was generous, vivacious and warm-hearted. The house was regularly filled with students, colleagues and friends.

After Abner’s death, Gay faced many challenges in her own health, but did so with tremendous bravery and her usual huge smile, never complaining or losing her passion for life. She developed her interest in creative writing and joined a writing group, making new friends. She wrote stories for anthologies and for her young grandchildren. She continued to write after moving to Liverpool in 2007 to be near family.

Gay is survived by her three children, Tammy, Simon and me, and five grandchildren, Otis, Jake, Billie, Ed and Alfie.

Source: Gaynor Cohen obituary

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