Tributes were paid last night following the death of a Birmingham charity worker and peace campaigner who helped distribute millions to academic institutions and good causes.

The death of Elnora Ferguson, aged 79 at home in Selly Oak, marked the end of a colourful life which included being banned from South Africa during apartheid because of work to promote equality.

A maths teacher in Nigeria in the 50s and 60s, she helped set up one of the first girls sixth-form colleges there.

A deeply religious woman, with husband John she was a Quaker, her voluntary work and charitable donations led to her receiving honorary degrees from Coventry University and the University of Birmingham.

Former member of the University of Birmingham Council and fellow Quaker David Brooks said: “For a person of her age she was indefatigable. She lived a very modest life but through her charity and voluntary work she was extremely generous. She wasn’t just a do-gooder, she constantly worked to make the world better in so many different ways.”

Close friend Valerie Evans, fellow member of the Lunar Society, added: “She was a truly amazing woman with a very full life. She travelled the world with her husband, but she always worked very hard voluntarily for charity or teaching wherever she went. She was someone who was incredibly reliable and committed in everything she did.”

A spokesman for the University of Birmingham said: “Elnora Ferguson was an extremely generous supporter of the university. She was tireless in her energy and enthusiasm for the University, its staff, students and alumni. She will be greatly missed by us all.”

From Lancashire, she studied economics and statistics at Newnham College, Cambridge – despite the fact women were not recognised as members of the university.

It was there she met husband John who she married in 1950.

After leaving university she went to the London School of Economics where she obtained a master’s in Social Work. In 1956 the couple moved to Nigeria where John had taken a place as professor of Classics at Ibadan University and Elnora taught remedial maths.

After a brief stint in Minnesota they returned to England when he became Dean of Arts at the newly-formed Open University and Elnora continued teaching maths at adult education classes.

The pair came to Birmingham in 1979 when John became President of Selly Oak Colleges, a role he worked with Elnora. She was a director in the family publishing business Taylor and Francis plc which funded the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Foundation of which Elnora was a chairman. After Mr Ferguson’s death in 1989 a grant of £2.5million established the Centre for the study of Global Ethics and the Ferguson Chair at the University of Birmingham.

She was president of the central region of the United Nations Association and deputy moderator for the Free Churches on the Council of Birmingham Churches Together. Her funeral is at Lodge Hill Crematorium, Weoley Park Road, Selly Oak, on Monday, December 29, at 12.30pm.