Chris McConville (1934 – 2019) (Joe's 1944 – 1952)

Obituary taken from the service book of his Memorial Mass.

Chris grew up in Blackpool in a family of six children. He came to University in London, followed by National Service in the UK, Malta, Germany and Suez. Then, to pay back his student loan, he worked as a coal miner, drove trolley buses and worked night shift metal-polishing car bumpers in a factory, where he was working when he met his wife Molly.

Trying different jobs, he found himself driving vans for the British Council, collecting and delivering the heavy luggage of students from the Commonwealth. That led to driving foreign visitors around Britain by coach, then helping in and eventually running the British Council Student Centre in London creating educational and social programmes for foreign students.

Next, based in Head Office, he placed and supported post doctorate students from overseas, notably from Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Germany. Chris worked for the Council in Malawi and then on the Middle East desk in London. Finally he was appointed to Palestine, as the first UK Director of the British Council in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. He was awarded an MBE for his outstanding achievements there.

Following retirement, he was asked by Medical Aid for Palestinians to supervise the setting up of health facilities in Lebanon and Syria. He also joined EU election monitoring teams, in Palestine and Kosovo. Back home, for ten years he was the voluntary treasurer for FQMS, the Foundation for Al Quds (Jerusalem) Medical School. He continued to support FQMS and other medical charities until he died. In every phase of his life he made lasting friends. Chris had two children, Joe and Claire and four grandchildren, Christine, Joseph, Christopher and Michael. One sister, Margaret, survives him.

Chris donated his body for medical study.

Note by Gerard Slavin (Joe's 1944-1951)

A meeting of old friends

In 1995 my wife and I retired from academic posts in London teaching hospitals and were invited as Professors of Pathology to establish the pathology department in the newly established Al Quds Medical School for Palestine just outside East Jerusalem. On a preliminary visit we were at the British Council and they spoke of their previous director, Chris McConville. After my enquiry, “Does he have red hair and did he come from Blackpool?”, there was much laughter with the reply, “Once, but now it is very white and he lives in Islington”. On returning home I phoned and sure enough it was the Chris McConville I had last seen in 1951 when I left St Joseph's College. We renewed our friendship over a good lunch and a bottle of wine and Chris told me of his remarkable career.

Although we had been in the same class Chris was a year younger and stayed on until 1952 when he went to London University to study English. There in his first year he shared a flat with David Lodge, who later became the celebrated novelist. Indeed he told me with considerable pride and again much laughter that he was the model for Ginger in Lodge's novel Ginger You're Barmy about University life, though he denied any links with the IRA which he put down to Lodge's febrile imagination!

His subsequent career is well set out in his obituary notes and the appreciation by Sir Ciarán Devane but I would like to add my gratitude for his efforts in retirement when he became treasurer of the Foundation of the Al Quds Medical School. His prodigious efforts raised large amounts of money and the 'Old Boy' network sustained not only the new pathology department but ensured the continuing success of the Medical School. This now produces doctors in all specialties for Palestine and even exports those who for political or social reasons cannot practice in that troubled land. Indeed two of the first cohort of students are now consultants in British teaching hospitals.

An appreciation from Sir Ciarán Devane. Chief Executive of the British Council

Chris had a very illustrious British Council career and his legacy is varied, profound and lasting. Chris was our first UK appointed Director of British Council Occupied Palestinian Territories, but I also wanted to mention that he is also regarded by many as one of our best ever directors. He arrived at a very challenging time after the first lntifada when all Palestinian universities had been closed by lsraeli authorities. Chris took the initiative to start up a Teaching Centre in our current East Jerusalem premises to which Palestinian students from far and wide (from even Gaza and Nablus) came to study. This proved a huge success, and this was confirmed during a visit by our Director General. Chris was also very highly regarded for opening a teaching centre in Gaza. Chris, with Colin Green, also started up the first Palestinian Medical School - at Al Quds University at Abu Dis in Jerusalem which is still going strong despite all the challenges of the occupation: another wonderful and lasting achievement, and his MBE award was indeed richly deserved.

Chris is also remembered by British Council colleagues as an inspirational, flexible and highly intelligent leader, who not only had wonderful ideas which he ensured came to fruition, but who also deeply cared about his teams. This is also the case with this tenure as Director British Council Malawi and his post in London. I know that he kept up the great work after his retirement from the British Council, using his skills for Medical Aid for Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria in particular.

Chris is a very fondly remembered colleague who did so much for our organisation, who left so many wonderful memories and whose work impacted on the lives of thousands of people. He will be greatly missed by very many.

Back to the Obituaries Page.