John Blower (1922-2020)
Conservationist, Adventurer, Soldier and Old Rossallian
Rossall has produced many formidable figures but few more so than John Blower. Recently, we reflected upon the death of Sir William Frankland (OR) who died in April at the age of 108. By comparison, John Blower was a relative youngster given that he was born in the very year that Sir William first attended the Junior School. However, John was a swashbuckling hero and adventurer. His long life produced a rich seam of impressive anecdotes but his extraordinary contribution to wildlife conservation was as immense as his personal character was impressive.
Like so many Rossallians, John Blower led a remarkably varied life. On one occasion he was moved to present Emperor Haile Seassie with a chihuahua puppy called Lulu, in order to gain permission for the famous Anglo-Ehtiopian Blue Nile Expedition of 1968. Blower recalls how the dog relieved itself over the floor before an unfortunate footman lept into action with a mop. Blower’s contribution to wildlife preservation in Uganda and Ethiopia was pioneering and his love for the natural world was firmly established during his school years here at Rossall.
His recent obituary in The Times observes that:
After a local prep school, he attended Rossall School on the Lancashire coast. It was during his time there that his interest in the outdoor life blossomed, especially on trips to the Lake District. His father had given him his first gun when he was a boy and he quickly became an accomplished marksman, competing at Bisley while at Rossall. He also joined the school cadet force and enjoyed learning to be self-reliant in the countryside.
John Blower was the oldest of two boys born to a Shrewsbury businessman. After attending Rossall, he progressed to Edinburgh University where he spent plenty of time camping in the Cairngorms. He also released a cage full of rats during a Communist Party meeting in the city. During the Second World War, Blower fought in Burma and was mentioned in dispatches for leading dangerous missions behind the Japanese lines. He would have been killed in Burma but for an amorous assignation which prevented him from boarding the doomed flight upon which he was supposed to have been a passenger. His reputation for bravery was legendary and in later years his expedition partner in Africa, Colonel Blashford-Snell,l was to recall that:
He had a hell of a reputation because he was courageous, amazingly fit; the Africans loved him and respected him. He thought nothing of marching on when other men would be on their knees
Reared on Boys’ Own adventures, it was perhaps not surprising that after the Second World War, Blower learnt Swahili and became a game ranger in the Serengeti National Park. By the mid-1950s, Blower was chief game warden for Uganda and in the mid 1950s, he was seconded to the Kenyan police service to lead anti-terrorist operations against the Mau-Mau.
In the 1960s, Blower moved to Ethiopia, where he helped set up a new wildlife conservation department. For fourteen years he worked for the forestry department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
During this period of his life, he helped create national parks in Nepal. After retiring from the UN, Blower then worked as a consultant on projects in Bhutan, Bangladesh, and on World Wildlife projects in Indonesia.
John was a prolific and talented writer and most recently published Bangai Hill – A Game Warden’s Africa (2004) and The Plundered Forests (2007). John had four children, all of whom survive him. He was married twice; first to Elizabeth Lutley who died in 2012 and then to the American anthropologist and botanist Wendy Day who died in 2018. He took up sailing at the age of 68 and, in retirement, split his time between a smallholding on the Welsh Marches and his wife’s native Vermont.
His knowledge of the natural world was encyclopaedic and his greatest joy was observing animals in the wild. Rossall should be very proud of this particular Rossallian and we are delighted that his love of nature developed within the spectacular beauty of Rossall’s stunning grounds.
John Blower, soldier and conservationist, was born on August 25, 1922. He died on June 14, 2020, aged 97