Tony Read, who died on 4th April, forged a unique career in improving education in developing countries and particularly in the provision of textbooks and reading books to schools.
Most publishers knew him from his work at the Publishers Association (PA) and as an adviser on learning materials in international aid projects. He was a huge character: energetic, inspiring, obsessively hard-working, knowledgeable and a great raconteur and companion.
Soon after graduating from Oxford, Tony and his wife Sue went to Ghana, where Tony taught at St Augustine’s College. They remained in Ghana for nine years. This experience, which he loved, formed the basis of a unique career which combined a deep understanding of the educational needs of developing countries and an impressive knowledge of the book industry.
In 1970 Tony returned to England and joined Oxford University Press, where he learned everything he could about publishing, printing, paper, pricing, design and copyright. In 1974 he went as its m.d. to OUP New Zealand, where he and his family lived in the hills outside Wellington, and Tony published and travelled throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific.
In 1977 he returned to Oxford as international director at OUP, later joining the PA as director of the international division of the Book Development Council, where for over 10 years he worked with publishers and booksellers throughout the world. He negotiated copyright agreements with Russia, visited China in the early ‘80s, took delegations of publishers to many countries and knew all the key players everywhere he went. He was well known for his astonishing depth of knowledge, retentive memory, impatience with bureaucracy and ability to share opinions, meals and conversation in the most remote places.
Tony preferred to work independently, and in 1990 with a few friends, he set up International Book Development, an independent consultancy company to advise publishers, aid agencies and governments on how to provide learning materials to children in developing countries. This he continued to do with idealism and commitment until the day he died.
He visited approximately 80 countries during his career and threw himself into the interests of each one. Whatever difficulties arose, he was irrepressibly optimistic and determined. He had friends everywhere: ministers, taxi drivers, booksellers, teachers in remote schools and publishers.
Tributes have poured in from all over the world, including this from a printer friend: ”He was fun, a teller of stories, impatient with red tape and ‘laggards’, a workaholic, demanding...and with an infuriating habit of knowing more than his consultants!”
And this, from a colleague at the World Bank: “Before he passed away, I told Tony that he had been responsible for improving the educational experience of hundreds of millions of children and for improving the understanding of the publishing industry in a dozen development assistance agencies—including us. Not a bad legacy, I think.”
Tony is very much missed by Sue, his three sons and his daughter, his nine grandchildren and his many friends all over the world.