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Obituary: Mr Leszek Beldowski

The University of Leicester has learnt with regret of the death in Warsaw on September 24 of Mr Leszek Beldowski, a University College Leicester graduate who joined the Library in September 1958 as an Assistant Librarian. Later promoted to the post of Sub-Librarian (Reader Services) in October 1966, he continued to work at the University on an Associate contract after his retirement until 1992. 

Leszek Beldowski was born in Poland in 1929, and after being forced to spend most of his life outside his homeland, was finally able to return there after the fall of communism.

The Second World War forced Leszek and his mother into a hard exile in Kazakstan; after some time in India from 1942 to 1948, they came to Britain to join his father in Scotland, but his father sadly died on the day they landed.  

Leszek completed his schooling at the Copernicus Grammar School in Cambridgeshire. In 1952 he began a degree course at the then University College Leicester, graduating in 1956 with an honours degree in Modern History. It was the beginning of a long association with Leicester: he spent the year after graduation as a Library Assistant in what was shortly to become the University Library, and after completing the Postgraduate Diploma course at University College London, returned to the Library in 1958 as an Assistant Librarian.

In 1958, Leicester University Library was at the very beginning of a long and much-needed period of expansion, under the guidance of the late Rhoda Bennett, Librarian since 1931. When she retired in 1961, the Library staff still numbered just 15, and annual expenditure on the Library just over £35,000. 

Under Douglas Walker, Miss Bennett’s successor, the next twenty years would see massive growth throughout the University, and in the Library in particular. Leszek Beldowski would play a key role in this development, especially after 1965, when he was appointed one of the first two Sub-Librarians, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.

For both Douglas Walker and his successor, Brian Burch, Leszek was a loyal and trusted member of the Library’s senior management team. For many years, he supervised Reader Services, but he also contributed much to the planning for the new Library, finally opened in 1974, and to the integration of computer-based systems with the more traditional library routines. 

Whatever the problem, his approach was always the same - calm and considered - and if at times his more excitable colleagues regarded his views as unnecessarily conservative, they usually came to recognise that Leszek was in no way hostile to progress, but rather concerned to preserve the best of the past.

To his Library colleagues, Leszek maintained a friendly but reserved manner. He was unfailingly courteous, and always protective of the staff for whom he as responsible; he was not however without humour, and on closer acquaintance could reveal a sharp wit, not least in his observations on campus life. 

Outside the University, he had a wide circle of friends, especially among the Polish expatriate community in Leicester and London, and he long retained an affection for Scotland. He was an active member of the Polish Council and wholeheartedly supported the Solidarity movement. Late in life, and unbeknown to many of his Library colleagues, he married a Polish friend he had known for years, and after the collapse of the Soviet empire they established homes in Leicester and Warsaw. 

For some time after his retirement, he worked for the University’s Museum Studies Documentation Centre, which was much appreciated, but latterly he had spent most of his time in Poland, where, despite his application for British nationality, his heart had always remained. He recently completed a study of the Poles in India, 1942-1948, events of which he had himself been a part.

Leszek Beldowski’s many friends in the University of Leicester and in the wider Polish community will mourn his passing. The appellation ‘a scholar and a gentleman’ has been much misused, but for Leszek it is a perfect description of someone who contributed a lifetime’s service to the University of Leicester and its Library. We offer our sympathy to his widow, Halina.

Brian Burch, O.B.E. 
October 2002  

Funeral arrangements

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Last updated: 18 October 2002 17:00
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