Earlier this month my brother-in-law Perran Penrose died suddenly from a severe stroke. He was 65 and looking forward to a long and happy retirement with my sister Angela. They met at Oxford where by coincidence Perran was at New College some two years ahead of me. By the time of his premature death Perran had become one of the world’s leading independent development experts advising Governments and NGOs on public finance particularly in the field of education. He also taught and mentored widely designing courses for and teaching in distinguished academic institutions such as the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Dubai School of Government, the Maastricht Graduate School of Government, the National Chenchi University in Taipei, the Centre of Financial Management Studies (CeFiMS) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University where his mother, Professor Edith Penrose had founded the School of Economics.
In fact both Perran’s parents were distinguished academics. His father Ernest ‘Pen’ Penrose, a First World War veteran, taught at Berkeley in California where one of his students was Edith Tilton. He was part of the team that designed the Food Programme in the post second world war reconstruction of Europe. Pen and Edith married in 1945 and they then went to John Hopkins University, Baltimore in the USA. The two of them vigorously defended their fellow academic Owen Lattimore who had been falsely accused by Senator Joe McCarthy of being a Soviet spy. They were so disgusted by the experience that they became disillusioned with the US and put themselves in a form of voluntary self-exile taking sabbatical leave first to the Australian National University in Canberra and then to Baghdad University.
Edith’s best known work The Theory and Growth of the Firm was published in 1959 and secured her reputation as an original thinker and one of the leading economists of her generation. While in Baghdad Edith studied the economics of the oil industry which led to the publication in 1968 of her book The Large International Firm in Developing Countries: The International Petroleum Industry. After the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy the couple were expelled from Iraq and drove across the Syrian Desert through Turkey and onto the UK where they settled permanently.
During this period Perran and his younger brother were educated at English boarding schools. After reading English at New College he married Angela, qualified to teach English as a foreign language, and then taught in the University of Libya and what is now Addis Ababa University. He was a government officer in the (then) North West State of Nigeria. He then moved into charitable work running Action in Distress (AID) in Burundi where he also founded the Burundi international rugby union team and played for them in their inaugural match against Ruanda.
He returned to England living in Norfolk, where his children Jago and Sefryn were born, Cambridge, and finally his beloved Cornwall whence his ancestors came. In the 1980s he founded Cambridge Education Consultants, a consulting company that still goes from strength to strength but he preferred independence to management and since 1990 he worked as an independent consultant specialising in economic policy, public finance and budgeting, and education planning and finance. He advised the Ministry of Finance in Viet Nam on financial policy analysis and the Vietnamese National Assembly on matters of budget oversight. He advised the Department of Finance in the Government of Dubai on their public finance reforms. He worked as part of a Harvard University team in Ethiopia on the budget planning reform. He advised the Indonesian Parliament and the Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs on financing the decentralised school system. He advised the government of Thailand on the decentralisation of basic education as part of the Thai budget reform. He worked with the Armenian Ministry of Finance on its reform programme; the Romanian Ministries of Education and Finance on the decentralisation of education; the Ministry of Finance in Jamaica on its economic reform programme; the Ministry of Education in Ghana; the Ministries of Finance and Education in Tanzania; and on other assignments in South Asia, the Caribbean, and several other African countries.
He also taught in the areas of public finance, economics and education. He taught a popular course every summer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.[i]He was an Associate of the Cambridge University Centre for International Business and Management in the Judge Management School. He was a Tutor in Public Policy Management for the Centre of Financial Management Studies (CeFiMS) in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, for which he directed short executive courses, including the Budget Reform Executive Programme. He wrote the CeFiMS distance learning module for the master’s degree (MSc) in Public Finance Management. He was a Visiting Fellow in the University of East Anglia. He taught over a period of three years a regular one week intensive course on Public Finance Management to senior officials of the European Commission. He taught a public finance management course for the Swedish International Development Agency in Stockholm. He also taught public finance in the Dubai School of Government, and taught in the National Chenchi University in Taipei, Taiwan.
He was Founding Chair of Link Community Development, a leading international NGO concerned with school development and education management in Africa.[ii]He was Chairman of St Piran’s Trust working tirelessly to excavate St Piran’s Oratory at Perranporth, thought to be the oldest Christian building on mainland Britain, and by 2011 sufficient funds had been raised to work on the first stage of the project. [iii]
As the son of distinguished world class academics there is no doubt that Perran could have joined their ranks. In fact he did all the things academics do. He taught widely at many world class institutions. He researched widely with advantage of what he called the ‘bed bug bites’ having experienced first-hand the impact of poorly run post-colonial development. And he wrote extensively, at least a million words, but not in peer reviewed academic publications chasing research dollars, but rather in reports direct to senior government officials where it could make a difference for millions of citizens.[iv]He was not attracted to the idea of belonging to an academic institution where in his parents’ case he had observed the worst horrors of political interference in the McCarthy era and then later at a more parochial level still the unpleasant local politics of an academic institution. His independence drove him and kept him sharp.
As a development consultant he was at the top of his profession. It is no exaggeration to say that his work benefitted many millions and that many hundreds benefitted hugely from his teaching and mentoring. He was a talented musician who played the French horn to a high standard and in his last months was composing a piece to be played by the Wind Quintet he formed.
He was due to go with Angela in January to Athens to teach a course to a development consultancy called 4Assist. On their website this week they posted the following:
“What stood out above all was the combination of his personal and professional integrity and his incredible charisma as a mentor and teacher. We at 4Assist had the benefit and privilege to have known him. He was our mentor and advisor, always enthusiastic to help and advise us on every aspect of our work.”[v]
To me Perran was a huge personality with a huge intelligence who leaves a huge hole which can’t be filled. Above all it seems to me he was brave. At his funeral last week some spoke of his integrity, and that was impressive but because it was so strong it wasn’t a choice. Nor was his intelligence. He had that naturally, he did not earn it. But bravery does imply choice and he made tough, brave choices all through his life with my sister at his side. She must have made a brave choice to go with him knowing him as she did, but it was a good choice.