Robert Jordan, my father who recently passed away at the age of 77, was an academic trailblazer in the teaching of the English language. His life was full of adventure and excitement, as he lived through the bombings of the blitz, studied at Manchester University, and even spent time in the Himalayas assisting Sir Edmund Hillary with his "schoolhouses in the clouds" project.

Robert, born to Kenneth Jordan, who worked as a detective sergeant in special branch, and his spouse Christabel, grew up in Chiswick, a suburb in west London. He developed a passion for rowing, which began on the Thames and continued when he studied economics at St. John’s College, Cambridge. After graduation, he worked as an English language teacher in Finland before joining the British Council.

While studying to become a teacher at the Institute of Education in London, my father met my mother, Jane. He proposed to her during the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race in 1965, and together they traveled to Nepal, a place that would become a prominent feature in my father’s life. The couple shipped a Land Rover and a Wedgwood dinner set, starting their married life in a country that had been recently opened to the western world.

Based in Kathmandu, my father’s job involved training high-school teachers of English, but it was a chance encounter at an embassy cocktail party that led to one of his most memorable experiences. He met Hillary, who was funding village schools through his Himalayan Trust charity. My father asked Hillary, "But once they’ve been built, what goes on inside them?" This question led to a month-long, hazardous expedition that involved trekking through mountainous terrain, encountering leeches, "yeti skulls," and meeting Kappa Kalden, an elderly Sherpa artist whose works adorned many local monasteries.

After spending four years in Kathmandu and a year studying in Edinburgh, my father worked in Sierra Leone, but the political unrest marked this period as unhappy. Finally, he found peace at Manchester University, where he worked in the English Language Teaching Unit until his early retirement in 1992. He co-founded Selmous, now known as Baleap, an organization for teachers of English for academic purposes, and fostered writing talent for Collins. He also authored several books, including the acclaimed Academic Writing Course (1980).

Former colleagues of Robert remember him fondly for his encouragement, generosity, and sense of humor, which often included excruciating puns. In Manchester, he visited the Jai Kathmandu restaurant regularly and amassed an extensive collection of books on Nepal — one of the largest in the UK. He returned to Nepal many times and conducted workshops for the British Council in China, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia.

In 2010, despite battling Alzheimer’s, he returned to Nepal to launch a book about early visitors to the country, titled From Missionaries to Mountaineers, which was his last trip to the country.

My father is survived by his wife Jane, brother Clive, sister Catherine, his grandchildren India, Alex, and Alfred, and his memory lives on as a trailblazer in the field of English language teaching.


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    Benjamin Chambers is an educator and blogger who focuses on using technology in the classroom. He has written for sites like The Huffington Post and The EdTech Digest, and has been featured in outlets like Forbes and The New York Times. Chambers' work has helped him to develop a following of educators and students who appreciate his down-to-earth approach to learning technology.