Remembering Simon Greenall. Some Tributes
I first met Simon over 40 years ago in the 1970’s. He was a young ‘lecteur’ at the University of Lyon and I was setting up the British Council’s ELT programme in Paris. He was a frequent participant in the workshops we ran and I quickly came to appreciate his boyish enthusiasm, professional commitment and natural charm.
We lost touch for a few years while I was working in China and India but re-connected when he became President of IATEFL, where his diplomatic and social skills served him – and IATEFL – well. He sometimes told me that he was regarded as ‘a safe pair of hands’ who could be relied upon to steer the ship into calm waters. But he was far more than that, and showed imagination and vision in re-shaping IATEFL. He also showed decisive courage in several moments of crisis.
By then, Simon had re-settled in UK and become a full-time writer, mainly for Macmillan. He went on to become one of the most successful ELT writers ever when he headed the team for the Macmillan/Foreign Languages Press course materials for China, which has sold millions of copies – and continues to do so. He was rightly proud of this achievement, but characteristically modest about it too.
The impact he had on the profession was deservedly rewarded when he was given the OBE in 2013 (along with Penny Ur). I think he felt that the honour had somehow been conferred on all his colleagues as well as on him personally, and that gave him great pleasure.
In the last few years our friendship deepened. Coincidentally, Simon, David Hill, Andrew Wright and me all developed various serious ailments at roughly the same time. So we formed an ad hoc mutual support group mainly via regular e-mails. His care, humour and courage were treasured by all of us. Andrew and I miss him very much. David, sadly, succumbed to his illness in 2017.
I miss his humanity and warmth, and his generosity. I miss his deep sense of responsibility for anything he undertook. I miss his conviviality, sense of humour and enjoyment of good conversation, coupled with the capacity for careful listening. I miss his inquiring mind, his wide range of interests and his continuing curiosity about the ways of the world. I shall remember especially his quiet dignity and courage in his last months, and his refusal to be defined by the illness which finally carried him off.
Simon was my colleague but more importantly he was my friend. I first met Simon when he was a young lecturer at the University of Lyons in the late 1970’s. Over the years I came to love his blend of kindliness, sensitivity, intelligence, creativity and fun.
There was another element in Simon: vulnerability. Vulnerability in spite of his huge achievements! Simon was given the OBE of which he was very proud, quite rightly. Above all I assume this recognition was for his work as director of the MacMillan English course for China. Simon’s job was to contribute to and supervise all the published material and to work closely with Chinese colleagues as well as the team of English writers. One billion copies of the course books have been sold! This is not only a breath taking number of books but an extremely thought provoking statistic!
Course books are packed with content. Content means choice of values perceptions and behaviours. Yes, the students learn English but, at the same time, they are experiencing, through the content, the way the writers look at the world and decide what is important. These values and perceptions saturate the content but so, too, do the writers’ perceptions of the role of the individual student and his or her relationship with the teacher.
Simon’s humanity and, of course, the humanity of his writer colleagues has been experienced by Chinese students through these one billion books. We cannot know how much of these values, perceptions and behaviours have been taken on board by the students and indeed the teachers.
As I understand it new editions of the materials are being modified to manifest the value, perception and behaviours felt to be more appropriate to Chinese society. If this is the case it suggests that the authorities believe, as I do, that something of Simon was being absorbed by a significant proportion of the population of China.
There is something of Simon in everyone who knew him and every student who used his materials…and all the better for it.
From A Service to Celebrate the Life of Simon Anthony Greenall OBE
Each one of us will have our own thoughts and beliefs about life, death and what may happen afterwards, and those thoughts are then complicated by grief – especially when a life ends before we might expect it to do so. Neither I nor anyone else can explain why Simon’s life had to be cut short by a cruel disease. There are no easy answers to offer. In time however you will be able to see that length is only one factor in a life – and not the most important one either. Content, quality and achievements are far more significant, and it’s those that we will concentrate on today.
Each of us does indeed live on through the memories we leave with those who share our life, and some like Simon have the ability to leave a memorial in the form of published work and academic achievement that will live on for generations to come.
Another source of comfort is the gift of heredity – we pass on our features, our ways of thought, our likes and dislikes from one generation to the next: through that succession a part of Simon will always live on in his descendants.
Finally there may be for so many of us a hope that death is not the end – rather a point along the path of existence where the nature of that existence changes but does not cease. For some that means a belief in God, and in Heaven. For others it may not be so clearly defined, but the hope and belief is still there. It’s my hope for you and for Simon today that he is indeed in a better place, and that perhaps in some way we cannot yet comprehend or spell out you will be reunited with him when your time comes. Until then, treasure your memories of Simon, rejoice and take pride in his achievements, remember the love he gave you and that you gave him – and he will be there in your hearts and minds.
“Everyone he met liked and admired him”, “Polite almost to a fault” “He made people feel comfortable”, “Loving, generous, warm, witty, funny”, “trusting – helped people without reservation”
Just some of the phrases Jill, Jack and Alex gave me when we met to plan this service: I suspect they will have brought Simon’s image straight to your mind as I said them – and brought back memories of the times that you saw and experienced those qualities.
So to Simon’s path in life: it began in London in 1954, as younger brother to Tim, growing up in South London close to Crystal Palace, attending Alleyns School and becoming involved in the National Youth Theatre, becoming especially interested in set design and the practicalities of the stage. Simon went on to study French and German at Jesus College Oxford, and then spent six years in Lyon, France, teaching English as a foreign language, making many good friends there.
From there Simon returned to London to start a new phase of his life in more than one way. His first aim was to begin a writing career and that career led to a significant meeting with the editor of his first book – one Jill Florent. The title of the book was “On course for first certificate” – appropriate words as Simon and Jill were “on course for life”. They were married in 1986, and the family increased with the arrival of Jack the following year. Then came a move to Divinity Road Oxford and the arrival of Alex to compete the family in 1989. Divinity Road has been the geographical centre of Simon and his family’s life ever since.
When I asked Jack and Alex for their memories of growing up they talked about a life of opportunity – trips to the South of France at every opportunity, learning to ski, learning how to live – like the maxim “Always question authority” - something that Simon perhaps sometimes regretted instilling into them! In their words, he didn’t know what he’d set himself up for!
Simon had a passion for his work – which was extremely successful and meant that he was able to travel all over the world and could indulge a second passion for travel – Greece, Italy, Spain, Poland, Palestine, Georgia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Russia, Thailand, China,– just a few of the places mentioned to me. It might well be a shorter list if we went for the places he didn’t go to! Those visits involved research, conferences and lectures and of course Simon made friends wherever he went. Home was however where his heart was – he felt particularly far away on a visit to Santiago de Chile, when the boys were little, but such was the sense of family that he generated that they asked, “Where is Dad? and thought “Perhaps he’s in the back garden!”. Now of course they can treasure the memories of the “Dad jokes” - so bad apparently that I’m not allowed to quote them! Let’s just say that they must have demonstrated a unique sense of humour! Working from home as a freelance – in his ordered space, with a clear desk at the end of every day - had more compensations too, like the ability to take the boys to and from school – teaching Alex German along the way.
Cooking, food and entertaining were also passions – and he was an excellent cook – known especially for his roast potatoes, the recipe for which, according to his mother in law, was a closely guarded secret: her perennial comment at Christmas was apparently “Simon does such good roast potatoes and won’t give me the recipe”. Since he did actually give the recipe, it’s perhaps more an illustration that it’s not the instructions that count, but how you carry them out.
Heredity has clearly played its part – passing on that love of cooking to Jack and the love of travel to Alex.
Simon was very much a man who loved technology all his life – and always had the latest gadget, as well as knowing how it worked – right from the first Amstrad computer, with its green screen which he used to calm Jack down in his younger days, through being a pioneer of digital publishing, right up to today’s cutting edge technology of VR headsets and so on. Simon also had the ability to share his expertise, helping others to understand and use technology for themselves.
sThat theme of helping others shone through Simon’s life – whether it was a loan of money when it was needed, practical help like accommodation until friends got back on their feet, or just advice at the launch of a career, Simon was always there for all who needed him, whether friend or family. I’ve been shown the cards of thanks from those who benefitted and were forever grateful for that helping hand at just the right time. Probably the best summary of his ability to help in a crisis is contained in the family’s words to me “when all else fails just call Dad”
The Millennium saw a huge shift in Simon’s career – summed up in the one word “China”. He was invited by Macmillan to head their joint project with the Chinese Publishing company Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, to bring the teaching of English to that vast country. Today we don’t have enough time to describe all that was involved in that huge project – but what we do know is that Simon loved the opportunity he was given. I’ve taken the liberty of pinching wholesale the introduction to an interview he gave to EFL Magazine’s Phil Wade:
“Simon Greenall has been an ELT textbook writer since 1982, is a past president of IATEFL and is currently an IH Trustee. He was on the Board of Management of the English Language Teaching Journal for thirteen years. As a textbook writer, He has published many books including exam material, adult and secondary courses, as well as radio and television programmes for the BBC. Since 2000 he has been co-editor in chief of textbook series for Chinese junior high and senior high schools, and universities. He has also worked as a consultant to the ministry of education in Palestine on the teaching of English in state schools. In recent years he has specialised in cross-cultural training, and his latest series Culturally Speaking was published in 2015 by Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, Beijing. He has given workshops, plenary and conference presentations in nearly fifty countries. In the 2013 New Year’s Honours List he was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”
Referring specifically to the Chinese project, Simon’s words were “For me, it was a bit like a kid in a sweetshop!”, and that just about sums up the great sense of enjoyment of his work that shines through any account of Simon. He was proud of having sold over a billion books – more than J.K.Rowling, albeit at a slightly lower royalty rate!
China, like all Simon’s projects, resulted in lasting friendships, and some of those friends were inspired to move to the UK – like Xiao Bing- at whose wedding Simon stepped in as for the father of the bride as her family were unable to travel here for the ceremony. There were many other guests from China in those years, including his co-editor in chief Chen Lin.
I’m going to leave the professional life now to return to some more glimpses of Simon’s personal life – like his involvement with the Residents’ Association here in Oxford, and with the men’s book club – or should that be described as a dining club where you talked about books ?
Then there’s his love of Europe – especially the Swiss lakes, Germany, Italy and above all Venice where he sadly never realised his pipe dream of buying and restoring a property.
Oxford was definitely where Simon was rooted – and he loved showing people round the Oxford to which he had access and about which he knew so much, allowing others to see what they would otherwise never have known.
18 Simon of course loved to read – authors included William Boyd and Anthony Beevor, and television provided Inspector Morse and Wallander as well as numerous travel and train programmes like those by Michael Palin. Then there was music – like Earth Wind and fire, and memories for the boys of listening to Stevie Wonder or Dave Brubeck in the car. Sion kept up to date with music, always interested in who was headlining at Glastonbury, enjoying the likes of Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse. Gifts of CDs to him tended to be passed on to his drivers in China – in the hope of improving the musical experience of the next passenger!
Simon loved flowers, and always asked for plants as a gift. He worked with a view of flowers, and grew chillies in the conservatory as well as herbs, jasmine and bougainvillea.
Maps, architecture and cities fascinated him. Google earth gave the opportunity for vicarious travel when physical travel was no longer possible.
Sadly Simon was afflicted by cancer from 2015 onwards. He had nothing but thanks and praise for those who treated him at the Churchill hospital from the consultants downwards, and I know the family would like me to pay tribute to the amazing care provided from Sobell House that enabled him to stay out of hospital, and ultimately to pass away at Divinity Road. His life ended in the place where he wanted to be, at home. There are good memories to the end – like the lunch out in Headington just before he died, laughing and joking with old friends.
I’d like to think that each one of us has a personal version of Heaven – and it’s my hope for you and for Simon that he’s in his version now – and it will have lakes, mountains, fresh food, plenty of wine – all to be shared with you, his friends and family when your time comes. Until then – remember him with love, and with gratitude that he was a part of all your lives.
And now to some more personal memories from family and friends
My main memories of Simon are from childhood family Christmas celebrations. The day was full of food, a long walk, more food and crazy card games. As we grew older keeping up was mainly through our parents, who lived close by in Hayes, Kent. Mollie’s pride in Simon going to Oxford radiated out and I became aware of his career as a writer and that he eventually settled in Oxford. Brief contact over the years was followed at last in going to see him in Oxford for a day out. I was amazed at his great love of the city and university as he showed my sister and I around. In 2015 I meet with him again and then continued to correspond for some time. This was very invigorating and intellectually stimulating. I was writing a memoir at the time and Simon encouraged me hugely to do it. He was so modest about his own achievements that I think I googled Simon Greenall OBE to find out more! Sadly, by then he had also been diagnosed with cancer and over the last year our correspondence dwindled away. I am so glad I had the opportunity to get to know Simon, even for a short time. I will remember him for his intelligence, modesty and friendship.
I would like to finish with a short poem.
Frances Greenall (cousin)
I have known Simon for nearly 30 years. We got to know each other through a local men’s book group, formed in 1991, and sometimes called the gentlemen’s dining club, as we always discuss the book over a meal cooked by the host. Simon as you can imagine was a great host, and I can often remember the superb meals he cooked better than the books we read. Having sampled Jack’s cooking, I can see that the cooking gene runs in the family.
Simon will be greatly missed by all in the group. I would just like to read you a few of their comments, which I think sum up Simon’s character:
‘He was one of the most generous people I have ever come across, as well as one of the funniest. In addition, he had a beautiful speaking voice, and it was always a pleasure to listen to him.’
‘Very sad news. Remembering many years of friendship, Simon's energy, fun, commitment to his life as a writer, and huge knowledge. I would like to say how much Simon helped me when I left teaching, with great patience helping me to take the first steps in a new life. An inspirational man, he will be greatly missed.’
‘I hadn't seen much of Simon since he took leave of the group - but when we did bump into each other, I always came away thinking "what a lovely bloke". Everyone who knew him will be greatly saddened to hear this news. East Oxford will miss him.’
‘This is how I think of Simon: Always respectful, always generous - always gave serious attention to the book, always standing back modestly and expressing his considered views after others. Invariably generous and kindly.’
‘I did not know Simon when he joined the book group but it didn’t take long to appreciate his engaging warmth and humour. His interest, knowledge and passion for books soon became apparent. Simon was a wonderful host and a fantastic cook, tirelessly bringing out culinary treats with his usual calm and good humour. The book group will not be the same without him.’
When Simon left the book group because of ill health he and I would meet every few weeks for coffee as we both worked from home. Simon was a great conversationalist always, warm, witty and considerate. Our conversations roamed over many topics, travel, family, writing, education and more recently the process of retirement, or at least working less. If you had a problem he was always willing to listen and invariably offered sound advice. I often found it difficult to tear myself away and get back to work.
Simon was a great friend, always kind, thoughtful and generous. I feel so sad that his life was cut short before he had a chance to enjoy his retirement. I will miss him more than I can say.
Chris Cornforth (neighbour, member of local book club)
Compassionate, generous of spirit, gentle, kind, hospitable, warm, supportive, inspiring, creative, humorous…..these are just a few of the attributes that appear repeatedly in the recent e-memories page dedicated to Simon Greenall. Once a linguist, always a linguist - I did a frequency analysis and these are the characteristics that rise to the surface and are shared amongst all - I know Simon would have approved due to his own passion for language. They are all overwhelmingly positive and loving. I wrote on that page about the friendship he and Jill offered my family at a time when we most needed it - that they provided us with a safe haven when we moved to the UK. I am not a religious woman and I don’t think Simon was a religious man but “room at the inn” and an open door with a warm embrace is what I always encountered at Divinity Road (as well as a glass refilled and a table of wonderful food).
In a quiet and understated way, Simon was always looking out for what others needed. Simon and Jill made everyone in their home feel welcome and cherished. I first met Simon through English Language teaching where he was an accomplished figure with years of experience behind him - someone I admired - I knew his books. He advised and supported me on many occasions. He advocated for all and appreciated the importance of a diverse profession. Never overstepping, only offering support when most needed. But it is my friendship with him that I will most remember because it was an unexpected pleasure I grew to appreciate greatly since moving to Oxford in 2011. I told him that we were coming and he extended the arm of friendship and saw what we needed when we couldn’t see it ourselves.
My mother in law, Maria, always loved going to Simon and Jill’s (of the many places we have taken her when she visits) because they sought to know her, to include her, to nurture a friendship individually with her, to appreciate her losses when we moved - to put themselves in her shoes and to include her despite any language barrier. Reading all the contributions we must all be struck by how wide that support Simon gave went and how many people will miss his friendship. How many people enjoyed the warmth of Divinity Road and created wonderful memories in the conservatory or in the garden. Most of us are able to give that generously for a portion of the time we have available but for Simon and Jill it was and is a way of life. I looked forward to walking across South Park from the University where I work and going for lunch or a cup of tea, talking through life and politics and work and relationships and all that there is…..earlier this year when I experienced a quite long depression, Simon was one of the people who said to me “don’t rush it, it will improve but take your time - go at your own pace”. He encouraged patience and understanding. That message helped me very much and created some balance to other advice to keep busy and keep moving. I saw him a few days before he died and once again felt his warmth and happiness that I was looking better. From my friend who was dealing with his own illness - he focused on the visitor in front of him.
I will truly miss Simon and our conversations and I will cherish my friendship with Jill now and always. My thoughts are with Jill, Alex and Jack at this time for the loss of their beloved husband and father.
I wanted to finish with a short extract from a Brian Patten poem, the Liverpool poet. I often posted Patten’s poetry on Facebook and Simon always liked, so I hope he would approve. The poem is called “January Gladsong”
Because joy and sorrow must finally unite and the small heart-beat of sparrow be heard about jet-roar, I will sing not of tomorrow’s impossible paradise but of what now radiates. Forever the wind is blowing the white clouds in someone’s pure direction
Simon radiated love and pure compassion. He will be missed.
From Sara Hannam (read by Gavin Dudeney)
Remembering Simon Greenall. Some Tributes
Robin Usher, Saudi Arabia
A Grammatical Misunderstanding Between Two Native Speakers of English
Jamie Keddie, Spain