22/05/2024
Norwich, GB 16 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

CLAUDE JAMES, aged 90

“A PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY”

Born in British Guiana (now Guyana) he was the eldest child of six. His parents were Gladys and Cyril and they lived in Kitty Village.

He loved school and then started work for the engineering department of Queenstown Council.

But in 1954 he decided to emigrate to Britain – and went on his own, as part of the Windrush generation.

He got accommodation in a shared house for newly arrived immigrants in Stamford Hill, London. He took a job washing up and spent his spare time studying.

He was appalled by the signs around London saying, “No blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.” Instead of getting angry, Claude was determined to dedicate his efforts to resisting prejudice, of whatever kind.

One day, he was walking past a photographic shop when he saw a picture of a young woman. He was stunned by her beauty – and was smitten.

Three months later, there was a knock at his front door. It was a young woman asking if there were any spare rooms in the house, for her brother. It was the very same woman. She was Daisy Thomas, originally from Jamaica.

Daisy and Claude began dating and were married in 1956. They were to have a son and a daughter.

Daisy worked for British Rail and when there was a vacancy, managed to get Claude a job there. He also joined the Labour Party and remained a member for the rest of his life.

Euston Station
Euston Station (courtesy Historic England Blog)

He rose through the British Rail ranks, becoming Health and Safety manager of Euston Station and ultimately the manager of the whole station.

In 1978, the family moved to a new house in Camden, on a newly built housing estate, Rowley Way (a.k.a. the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate).

He was also elected to the executive committee of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) and sat on the TUC’s race relations committee. He was the first black person to be elected to the executive of a transport trade union.

Claude was an advocate of fairness and justice and fought any form of racism with determination. As part of the TSSA, he set up ‘E-Mix’, a group for Black, Asian and ethnic minority members of the union.

But he spent hours sorting out any problems that anyone who lived on his estate had. He knew everybody and would stop and talk to anybody. His children complained a short walk could take hours.

He was a vociferous campaigner against the Poll Tax in 1989.

He was a local magistrate and sat on many employment tribunals.

When he retired, he stayed active in his union, but also threw himself into local community events. He also joined the National Pensioners Convention, campaigning for people who had retired abroad to be granted fair and equal rights regarding their state pension (which they are currently denied).

He also co-ordinated the Kilburn Older Voices Exchange and ran their monthly meetings.

And then he set up the ‘South Hampstead and Kilburn Community Partnership’. The initial aim was to stop the spread of vandalism. Quickly it expanded into a project to bring the community together. It led to many adult education classes. Claude chaired the monthly meetings.

He loved cricket, supporting Middlesex CCC and was a member of Hampstead Cricket Club. In retirement he started watching the West Indies, and he and Daisy travelled around the world to watch them.

In 2000 Daisy developed Alzheimer’s, and Claude became her full-time carer for 17 years, until she died.

Claude died of pneumonia. He is survived by a large, close-knit family.

At his funeral, the coffin was taken around the Rowley Way estate in a horse-drawn hearse. All the residents came out to honour him.

He was described as, “a pillar of the community”.

His estate plan to put up a plaque to honour his contribution. One of the residents, Sara Bell, said, “He was just the loveliest man – we all loved him. Extraordinarily fair, wise and down-to-earth, he respected everyone – and they respected him.”

Sara added that he had, “big shoes to fill.”

RIP – Retirement Is Packed (full)

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