Bryan Owen, a well-known and active member of the Federation, has sadly died. I am proud to be able to publish the tribute below by the co-founder of the Federation, Marc Sherland, who knew Bryan well, and one of Bryan’s poems, On The Victoria Line, which made a strong impression on me when I first heard him read it several years ago. It distils the essence of him.
Bryan Owen, poet, author and performer died on Wednesday 29th March 2017, having put up a great fight against various cancers. Born in Whitstable, Kent, he grew up in Dover and Deal overlooking the English Channel. He attended Dover Grammar School for Boys, finding his vocation in teaching and entered Keswick Hall College of Education in Norwich in 1967, where he Graduated in 1970. He taught in Nuneaton, Warwickshire for 2 years before going to Papua New Guinea on Voluntary Service Overseas. There he taught English and History in an American Lutheran mission school for 2 years (VSO) – a time that he describes as ‘a turning point in my life’. He was a retired Episcopalian Minister, though recently returned to service in St James the Less Church in north Glasgow.
Within the Federation of Writers (Scotland), Bryan had for several years been the timekeeper at SUDDEN FAME, a task to which he brought his characteristic flair and fairness. Bryan and I often sparred over religious matters, with him challenging my humanist views, especially if he felt that I was erroneously tarring all Christians with the same fundamentalist opinions. I enjoyed these occasions and we grew close over the last couple of years, gaining a wary understanding of our divergent viewpoints. When he was diagnosed with cancer and knew it would be terminal, he asked if I would be willing to speak at his funeral and to read a poem. It was not lost on me that he was wryly putting me at a church lectern. Unfortunately a prearranged visit to my sister in Germany, meant that I could not undertake this task, but I was very much there in mind. Bryan had published a number of books his first being ‘The Evil Eye of Gondor’ in 1983 and in 2004 he published Praying on the Edge – a series of studies for house groups on social themes. Poetry anthologies include in 2007 ‘Blue daffodils and other poems’ his first collection of poetry. In 2009 he published his CD ‘A gentle sprinkling of stars’ containing 21 poems.
He was a generous and loving man, who had worked in Bangladesh and was also part on an NHS inspectorate. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Bryan’s funeral was held on Thursday 6th April and Etta Dunn spoke on behalf of the Federation during the service, held at St James the Less, Bishopbriggs.
© Marc Sherland 2017
The poem below is taken from Bryan’s poetry collection Kokopelli’s Dance (Matador, Troubador Publishing Ltd 2010). I cannot describe it better than in Bryan’s own words: ‘On The Victoria Line is a poem inspired by my daughter who has Down’s Syndrome. I was taking her on holiday in 2007 and we had to change trains in London. This is what happened as I struggled with our luggage on an escalator on the Underground.’
On The Victoria Line
She took a tumble on the Victoria Line,
my daughter damaged by a faulty gene.
She wasn’t able to step firmly
from solid ground to moving stairs
I, wrestling with too much luggage and worry,
was disabled too.
A stranger caught her –
Chinese … smiling … as I recall.
He waved at me as the escalator
carried me downwards, away,
helpless against the London commuters
surging, tumbling down towards the trains.
I waved back, thankful for his strong hand
holding my daughter safe in the crowd.
An act of kindness in the city –
two strangers met for a moment
and knew it.
Where does such goodness come from?
My daughter does not understand
her gift for bringing people together.
© The late Bryan Owen 2010