Michael Dower has sadly passed away. Co-founder of the European AgriCultural Convention (EAC), which later became ARC2020, Michael stood staunchly for rural Europe, democracy, inclusion, and taking action now. His retirement marked the beginning of a fruitful career as a European convener, co-founding PREPARE and a number of other networks that punched well above their weight. Hannes Lorenzen remembers a European Englishman and friend.
A European citizen
Michael Dower died a week before his 89th birthday at his home in Dorset, England. We have lost a wholehearted European citizen; a believer in a peaceful, democratic and integrated Europe; a rural activist and climate worrier; a talented artist; and an idol and mentor for young Europeans. Michael was already a rural legacy 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 academic engagement in Europe culminated in editing and promoting the European Landscape Convention for the Council of Europe.
A European convener
The end of his academic career was the beginning of volunteering activism. In what Michael called his first retirement he became a European convener. He founded and served as president of ECOVAST – the European Council for the Village and Small Town. He co- founded and animated the European AgriCultural Convention (EAC), now ARC2020. He co-created the CURE – Convention for Urban and Rural Europe. He co-founded and served as coordinator of PREPARE – Pre-accession Partnership for Rural Europe, supported the launch of many national and regional Rural Parliaments, and was an ardent supporter and animator of the European Rural Parliament. Michael was a very active member of Forum Synergies, and many other European civic initiatives.
A climate activist
In his second retirement Michael focussed 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 disaster seriously. He still stayed 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.
A European Englishman
Michael was an Englishman for Europe, a believer in European democracy, cohesion, integration, cooperation, and volunteering. He strongly supported every step of EU enlargement and insisted at every occasion possible that the West Balkan region needed fair negotiations and accelerated inclusion. He worked with the Black Sea countries and contributed to the rural policy and development initiatives in Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia including Ukraine.
As an Englishman, he could stop a packed workshop at 5 pm CET calling out “tea time” – (4 pm his time), or to order a proper meal when his dinner time had come. He found Brexit “appalling” and suffered much from its political and social consequences.
A talented artist
Michael’s artistic talents were borderless 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 living 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 humor and his sense for what we all have in common, despite the many differences, was always heartwarming.
A lifelong learner
Michael was always curious to learn and to broaden his understanding of people and nature. His life was in a permanent flow of creation, creativity, engagements, and action. 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 was a friend. I got to know him in 1998 in Brussels. He gave a lecture on rural Europe. I shared the experience of the “Sustainable Rural Mystery Tour” of Forum Synergies.
One year later we organised together a rural traveling workshop through Estonia and Sweden. We had pushed the European Parliament and the European Commission to co-organise and finance this unusual discovery tour with locals, regional officials, national ministerials and EU civil servants. They all saw what was needed, what was possible, and what they were supposed to do. The EU Parliament published a report – which Michael wrote at night in Vietnam during a training course (with a wet towel around his head as he said) – because the paid rapporteur had failed to deliver. It was the first of many following projects and initiatives where we well “punched above our weight”.
We gathered civic energy and pushed politicians to act. In all this Michael was always demanding and supporting at the same time. At one of those punching occasions he shared with me what he called his four principles of a fulfilled life:
Dare the impossible – be ambitious about what you can and what you want to do – punch above your weight (a.k.a. his “So what?” question).
Do it Now – whatever needs to be done. Postponing or avoiding action means losing substance, understanding, and time.
Help if you can – volunteer if you see others needing your support. Inspire people to do the same.
Be reliable – never promise what you cannot hold. Check what is within your capacity and your time before committing.
Bless you Michael.