Obituary for Lyndsay Cowen, Urchfont

This Is Wiltshire: Lyndsay Cowen Lyndsay Cowen

Lyndsay Cowen, who, as chairman of governors, saw Urchfont Primary School through its darkest days and then became the first manager of the village community shop, has died at the age of 72.

Mrs Cowen was born in the tiny hamlet of Stanton Prior, near Bath, where her family had been evacuated in the early days of the Second World War. Soon they moved back to Essex and she spent her early education in a school in Southend.

But when the family home had to be sold on the death of her grandfather, her parents took a down-at-heel newsagents shop in Upton Park, east London, and built it up into a “little goldmine”.

Mrs Cowen, then Lyndsay Webb, attended Sarah Bonnell’s Girls’ Grammar School but, failing to attain the O-level Latin she needed to pursue a medical career, she left school at 15 and went to work in a bank in the City of London.

When her parents sold the newsagents and took a café in Bracknell, Berkshire, Mrs Cowen followed them and there met her first husband, Robert Reece, at that time a storeman in the RAF. The couple were married in 1963.

The marriage did not survive the couple’s move to Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1970 where Mr Reece, then employed by the building firm Taylor Woodrow, was working on a major dam project.

Back in the UK and single, Mrs Cowen landed a job as personal secretary to the general manager of Oxford Street department store, Selfridges, Alan French. At that time Selfridges had no complaints department so irate customers would frequently find their way to her desk where she used a heady mix of sympathy and intimidation to get them a refund or replacement. With the encouragement of her boss, she set up the store’s first customer care department She found a room in a flat in Acton, west London, where one of her flatmates was student actor Lewis Cowen. The two set up home in Wembley. When Mrs Cowen became pregnant with their son, Saul, they moved to Urchfont, to be close to her brother, Neil Webb, and sister-in-law Joy.

When Saul went off to primary school in the village, Mrs Cowen became a foundation governor and took over as chair of governors just in time for the first Ofsted inspection. It did not go well and the school was put into “special measures”.

A complete overhaul was required and Mrs Cowen was instrumental in employing inspirational head teacher Liz Templar who turned the school round from failing to Beacon status in just two and a half years.

Mrs Cowen was administrative officer with Kennet Citizens Advice Bureau for seven years, then Market Lavington parish clerk, before being given the opportunity to run Urchfont’s new community shop, staffed by volunteers. In the first three years of operation, the shop’s turnover tripled and her groundwork set it on the road to success.

She was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in August and died at home on Saturday morning with her husband at her bedside.

The date of the funeral has yet to be announced.


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