Arthur Collis, 1916-2012

January 10, 2013

A distinguished academic authority on social work has died.

Arthur Collis was born in Leyton, East London, on 13 November 1916, and won a scholarship to the local county high school. He began his working life at the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society and then, as a pacifist and socialist, became a conscientious objector when war broke out in 1939.

Returning to London, Professor Collis joined the Pacifist Service Unit, in Stepney, providing food and shelter to those who had been bombed out of their houses. He also met his wife, Sheila, to whom he was to remain married for more than six decades.

Only after the war was he able to begin his academic career, securing a scholarship at the London School of Economics and Political Science to read economics and sociology.

This enabled Professor Collis to pursue what became a lifelong interest in childcare and social work and led to a powerful polemic, co-authored with Vera Poole, titled These Our Children (1950).

The book drew on the observations of social workers working in "an industrial slum district" to offer "an account of the home life and social environment of children" living there. It ended with a call for the urgent "destruction and re-planning of such areas" and "a co-ordinated policy of family welfare" to combat "many of the evils that now exist".

In 1956, Professor Collis was appointed lecturer in social policy and social administration at the University of Birmingham and remained at the institution until his retirement in 1984, having, in the interim, been promoted both to professor of social administration and dean of the Faculty of Commerce in 1969.

He also played an important role in the creation of the National Institute of Social Work and was active within both local and national voluntary welfare organisations.

Retirement gave Professor Collis more time for gardening and family travel, but he continued to pursue his professional and charitable interests as honorary archivist of the British Association of Social Workers - establishing a collection that was digitised and made fully available online in 2009 - and as the chair of the Bournville Freeholders and Leaseholders Association.

Professor Collis was greatly weakened by a massive stroke in 2003, which led to his spending the remainder of his life being cared for in Selly Wood House, a nursing home in Bournville. He died at the age of 96 on 17 November 2012 and is survived by his wife, four children and 10 grandchildren.

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