Thursday, 23 August 2012

Cecil Jackson-Cole - grand father of charities, by Leslie Wilson

In early 1971, the telephone rang at our house at what my parents, who kept early hours, considered the ungodly hour of ten o'clock. My mother picked up the receiver, and a male voice said: 'Mrs Baker?'
'Yes?' she answered, wondering who it was.
'Would you like to live in London?'
It was before the era of cold calling, and she almost put the phone down, thinking she was talking to a lunatic, but instead, she said: 'I don't want to go and live in London, thank you.'
The unknown caller then asked if he could speak to her husband, so she went - with great misgivings - to get my father.

Photo courtesy of Andrews
Charitable Trust

The caller introduced himself to Dad, saying that he was Cecil Jackson-Cole, that he'd been hearing about my father on and off for the past ten years, and that he wanted to employ him. He suggested my father might like to take a senior post at Help the Aged. My father agreed to go and talk to Mr Jackson-Cole in London, and though he didn't want the post at Help the Aged, they put together a role for him, working half of his time as personnel manager at Andrews and Partners, the estate agents, and the other half dealing with personnel for Help the Aged and the umbrella charity, Voluntary and Christian Service, which existed to set up charities. And so my family came into the orbit of a great man - though not in physical stature; he was short and rather plump - and a great eccentric.

Cecil Jackson-Cole - generally known as 'CJC' was born in 1901, and I'm afraid I know nothing at all about his early life, except that he told me that as a child his family didn't have much money, but they had an aunt who lived in great style in a house she called 'Richborough'. Little Cecil assumed that meant she wanted everyone to know that she was wealthy. He himself became a wealthy man, but there was nothing ostentatious about him; he dedicated his wealth to assisting others.
The list of charities who were helped or set up by CJC include Oxfam, Help the Aged (now Age UK), Action in Distress (now Action Aid), and Toc H, but there are undoubtedly many more. He owned a series of furniture shops in London, called Andrews and Partners, but he disposed of the furniture business and used the name for an estate agent's instead. It was never widely known, but the estate agency's purpose was to fund Voluntary and Christian Service, and this remained the case during all the time that my father worked for the organisation.

The first Oxfam shop in Broad Street.
 Photo courtesy of Oxfam archive

Cecil Jackson-Cole was one of the founders of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, which was set up during the war to aid the starving people of Greece while it was being blockaded by the Nazis. At the end of the war it was suggested that the job had been done, and that the committee should disband, but but CJC leaped to his feet saying, ‘There is a world of need out there, we have been effective, so we must go on.’

Oxfam has gone on, and it will be 70 years old this year.

CJC with his wife Theo at my wedding
Photo by Michael Wheeler

He was interested that I worshipped with the Quakers - I later became a Quaker - because he also worshipped with the Society of Friends. I don't think he was ever a member, but he certainly lived out the Quaker testimony about simplicity of lifestyle. He lived in a flat in Hastings (I think it was Hastings, somewhere on the South Coast, anyway). I went there once with my parents, to have lunch with him, and I have a memory of shabbiness and brownness, the way old-fashioned places used to be in the 70s. Not at all like a millionnaire's residence.

His only treasure seemed to be a set of African carved animals, exquisitely made in a variety of lovely woods. He said something like: 'Animals are so beautiful, I love to look at them.' He handled these carvings with an almost childlike delight and wonder.

I remember how, at lunch that day - we had his favourite dish, lasagne, followed by tinned fruit or something similarly unluxurious - he asked me very seriously whether I thought that it was more effective for a charity to appeal to people with images of horror - it was the time of the Biafran war, when we were shocked by images of skeletal babies - or to show them positive things that they could help with. I said I thought positive was better than shock - I opined that people turned off the shocking images quite fast. I was still very young - in my first year at university - but he really wanted to know what I thought and treated me with a respect that I remember well, though probably my answer to his question only reinforced what he was already thinking.

Not that he was always an easy man to work with; a man so driven and dynamic was bound to have his shadow side. Luckily, CJCs colleagues and employees had the support, when there were difficulties, of his first wife, Phyllis. Phyllis was dead, but CJC talked to her every day - I'm not sure how - and she gave him advice - evidently very good advice - on staff relations. This tubby, unremarkable-looking little man was in touch with angels and otherworldly powers as well as with the dead: I remember him telling me that he had endured attacks by Satan and beaten them off by calling on the name of Christ.

He had a habit of saying 'Ye-es. Anything e-else?' and sometimes my father would telephone him and say: 'You asked me to ring you, Mr Jackson-Cole.' CJC would answer: 'Ye-es. Anything e-else?'

He came to my wedding with his second wife, a delightful woman called Theo, and at the end of the film that was made of the day is a shot of CJC directing the cars out of my parents' drive, with an expression of solemn satisfaction. My father said, when he saw the film, that he must have been saying: 'Ye-es. Anyone e-else?' as he directed the cars out.

My father told me that when he was dying, in 1979, CJC was engaged in an argument with God. 'I can't go yet,' he said. 'I've got so much more to do.' Then he was seen to listen to God's reply, which must have been convincing, because he gave way, saying: 'All right. I'll go now.' Then he died.

He left behind him a legacy of charitable work which continues today, and millions of people have been benefited by his initiatives. I am proud that my father was associated with some of them. I also am privileged to have known, however slightly, a man who made such a constructive mark on history.
photo: Leo Reynolds


Mark Burgess said...

Fascinating post, Leslie, thank you. I knew nothing about CJC. I love your father's story about his dying words.

Jean Bull said...

Thank you Leslie, for such an interesting post. Who'd have thought that all those great charities were all set up by the same man? How wonderful to have known him.

Sue Barrow said...

What a lovely heartwarming post Leslie. I've heard you say it before and it's true, so many of these charities were founded by Christians. I'll look out for the CJC plaque next time I'm in Oxford.

Leslie Wilson said...

That is not to say that non-religious people don't give just as generously to charity, or even found charities, whatever, historically, has been the case. And of course there are charities set up by other religions...

Lesley Cookman said...

Fascinating post about a fascinating man. Why is it that so few of them are widely known?

H.M. Castor said...

What a lovely piece, Leslie. I, too, had not heard of CJC, and am very glad to have learnt about him from this warm & moving post.

Leslie Wilson said...

I think CJC chose not to be widely known - what was important to him was the cause, and his ability to be useful to it, rather than any kind of personal prestige

Sian Edwards, Andrews Charitable Trust said...

Dear Leslie, thank you for posting this very personal memoire of CJC and adding to our knowledge of him. Andrews estate agency business remains wholly owned by 3 sister charitable trusts and through this, many charities and Christian organisations continue to be supported. We endevour to maintain CJC's legacy of making a difference to the world through supporting the good work of charities and continuing to demonstrate the benefits of strong and enduring links between business and charity.

Trevor Webb said...

Dear Leslie

Thank you for writing such a complimentary recollection of your meeting with my 'Uncle Jack'. I remember staying at his flat in Hastings although my fondest memories are of the holidays at Warden Manor on the Isle of Sheppey. A hotel owned by Uncle Jack and managed by his brother, John.

Uncle Jack also had a great sense of humour; I remember him playing his own wedding 'video' backwards and laughing at the guests arriving walking backwards. He is an inspiration to us all.

Kind regards, Trevor

Andrew Grim said...

Hi Leslie. Very interesting ! Forwarded to Theo. best wishes, Andrew (great nephew of GREAT Uncle Cecil)