Elizabeth Attenborough writes…
Beverley Mathias, former Children’s Officer of the National Book League and founding director of the National Library for the Handicapped Child, has died from cancer aged 72. She was a pioneer in working with children for whom reading was a problem, whether from a physical or educational disability.
Bev was born in Melbourne, Australia, and trained as a children’s librarian. After a year working in Dunedin City Library, New Zealand, it was back in Australia that she began her interest in special needs education, particularly the provision of reading for children with language and communication difficulties. From 1976 to 1979 she worked with Oldmeadow Booksellers outside Melbourne, where she found working with Joyce Oldmeadow and her Dromkeen Children’s Centre an inspiration. In 1979 Bev moved to England and became Children’s Officer for the National Book League (now Book Trust) under Martyn Goff. Under her stewardship the children’s library grew in both size and importance.
In 1984 Bev was asked by Imogen Smallwood, daughter of Enid Blyton, to be the founding director of the National Library for the Handicapped Child, which later became known as REACH, the National Advice Centre for Children with Reading Difficulties. In 1986 Bev accepted the Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding service to children’s literature on behalf of the organisation, signing as well as speaking her acceptance speech at the award reception.
Alongside her work with books and education, for six years Bev was a foster carer giving emergency and respite care. During this time, she also gave weekly respite care to a severely disabled child, Rachel, who was ten when Bev first cared for her. In 2004 Bev retired to Newton Stewart, Wigtown, in Scotland, where she became an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). She was heavily involved as both a volunteer and a benefactor in the local Book Festival, and was chair of the local branch of Home-Start. It was in 2009 that Bev was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her liver in 2011. She left her body to medical science.