Michael Dower passed away in November, 2022. He died a week before his 89th birthday at his home in Dorset, England. We have lost a wholehearted European man; a believer in a democratic and integrated Europe. He dedicated his life to the prosperity of rural Europe. He raised three generations of European ‘rural developers’ participating in international networking and policy making.
Michael’s legacy in rural development was already underway when he was still traveling the wider Europe over past decades, addressing, organising and inspiring numerous gatherings, workshops, rural parliaments and conferences with high level political decision-makers.
His academic career was shaped by his love for nature and the countryside. He managed the National Park of the Peak district in England; was Director General of the British Countryside Commission; and lectured as Professor of European Rural Development at the University of Gloucestershire.
His engagement with Europe started with editing and promoting the European Landscape Convention for the Council of Europe and founding and serving as president of ECOVAST – the European Council for the Village and Small Town. Later he co-founded and animated the European Agricultural Convention (EAC), and co-created the CURE – Convention for Urban and Rural Europe. Michael co-founded and served as coordinator of PREPARE – Pre-accession Partnership for Rural Europe, and was also an active member of Forum Synergies alongside many other European civic initiatives. He was the friend of all those who gathered civic energy and pushed politicians to act. In all this Michael was always demanding and supporting at the same time.
Over the last ten years Michael also focused his attention on his village, parish and rural schools. As an enthusiastic climate activist he was planting trees with children, caring for school forests and animating various other rural initiatives in his neighborhood urging people to take climate change seriously. In this period he remained in close contact with the European networks and associations he had co-created and shaped with a spirit of keeping his own country and its rural movements in Europe after Brexit.
Michael was an Englishman for Europe, a believer in European democracy, cohesion, integration, cooperation and volunteerism. He strongly supported every step of EU enlargement from 1990, and insisted at every occasion possible that the West Balkan region needed fair negotiations and accelerated inclusion. He believed in good neighbourhood relations and believed in the people living there. He loved the South Caucasus and worked with the Black Sea countries. Michael contributed to rural policy and development initiatives in Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and other EU neighbouring countries, including Ukraine, beginning some 20 years ago.
His artistic talents were boundless and emerged from nature – he painted flowers and landscapes with deep concentration and great passion; he followed the lines of sea washed wood to create representations of creatures. He had the gift to turn complicated political debates into enchanting limericks and poems, and would sing songs about Russian love dramas and French particularities to cheer up exhausted audiences. His English humour and his sense for what we all have in common despite the many differences was always heart-warming.
Michael was always curious to learn and to broaden his understanding of people and nature. His life was a permanent flow of creation, creativity, engagements, and action. He was never tired to critically discuss professional ideas. In order not to overlook or forget about the things he had learned and understood he became an enthusiastic notetaker. His archives of notes are immense. Where no-one was ready to be the rapporteur of meetings or gatherings Michael was. When no one remembered what had been decided at some assembly, Michael knew.
Michael concluded AEIDL’s 25th anniversary conference in 2014. His closing statement was great, on point as always, but not a usual professional summary. He spoke about the sad moments of his childhood connected to the Second World War, and about the historically long-term European peace as one of the greatest achievements of European cohesion. We did not know in that conference room how important Michael’s message about European peace would be a few years later.
Thank you Michael!