Laurence Keates

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LAURENCE Walter Keates, an academic who did much to promote interest in Portuguese studies at Leeds University and internationally, and a keen charity worker particularly to alleviate poverty, has died aged 83.

He had a great knowledge and love of the Portuguese language and culture which he passed on to colleagues and students while helping them to achieve their academic potential during nearly 30 years at the city’s university.

He was well read in several languages, and had that rare quality of being able to answer almost every question on University Challenge.

He was born in Cheadle, in Staffordshire, the only son but one of two children of Walter Keates, a bricklayer, and his wife Dorothy.

He was educated at school in Cheadle and did his National Service from 1947 to 1949 before studying at Birmingham University where he gained a first class honours degree in 1954. During that time, he spent a year in Lisbon to do his thesis and it was while there in 1953, he met his future wife, Sita Rani Machado de Santana Rodrigues, who was a student at the British Council.

A friend and colleague of his, Colin Ramsey, organised a small choir to sing Elizabethan Madrigals for the Queen’s Coronation. A small group of British Council students took part and Sita was one of the sopranos. Laurence was one of the baritones.

They were married in 1955 while he was teaching English at the Portuguese Army Staff College, in Lisbon, and five months later went to British Guyana where Mr Keates taught Spanish and French for three years at Queen’s College, a high school in Georgetown. He then returned to teach English at Lisbon University during which time he was awarded his MA.

In 1961, they moved to Leeds when he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature. He was promoted to Lecturer in the following year and to Senior Lecturer in 1972.

Mr Keates took a prominent part in the considerable development of Portuguese studies at the university, and his international standing was recognised by his appointment as a vice-president of the International Association of Lusitanists. He retired in 1989.

During his academic career, he had a number of publications related to his Portuguese interest and the theatre, including The Court Theatre of Gil Vicente, Lisbon, in 1962 and a Manual of Spanish and Portuguese Prose Composition for Advanced Students, and various related publications in 1969-1970

He also contributed to The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, and presented papers at various Hispanist and Lusitanists’ conferences in Mexico, Brazil, Europe and co-ordinated one in Leeds, all on Gil Vicente and wide and varied Portuguese and Spanish literary subjects.

He was a very kind, generous person noted for his integrity and sense of what was right and wrong, and with a firm faith. He encouraged his family, and made sacrifices to ensure his children went to university, and that his second daughter Berenice should be accepted to train at the Royal Ballet School, before moving to the Gulbenkian Ballet in Lisbon.

Throughout his life he supported many causes, including his own parish church, Our Lady of Kirkstall Roman Catholic Church in Leeds which he attended for 50 years until the last few months of his life, and many overseas charities.

But his main one was Progressio, to which he dedicated more than 30 years supporting its work helping to change the lives of poor and marginalised people in developing countries.

He also had a brief active political life. He stood as a Liberal candidate for Leeds City Council, in Kirkstall ward in 1976, at the same time as today’s Lord Mayor Coun Ann Castle, who as a Conservative also contested the seat but it was retained by Coun Bernard Atha. In the 1979 General Election he unsuccessfully stood in the Leeds North West constituency against Sir Donald Kaberry, the veteran Conservative MP who held the seat from 1950 to 1983.

He never lost his interest in theatre, language and literature, doing translations well into his retirement, and was an avid reader – and buyer – of books up to this year. His interest in Portugal, and Spain, never waned and he and his wife returned to Portugal each year for two to three summer months until 2011. He also loved classical music and attended many concert series in Leeds.

He is survived by his wife Sita, three of his four children and six grandchildren. His second daughter predeceased him in 2002.