James King Obituary

James King’s unhappy experience of boarding school during the second world war was probably crucial in forming his compassionate attitude to disadvantaged young people

James King’s unhappy experience of boarding school during the second world war was probably crucial in forming his compassionate attitude to disadvantaged young people.

Written by Simon Rodway. Chair – Caldecott Association.

In the early 1960s Leila Rendel, the founder and director of the Caldecott Community (now Foundation) was looking for a successor to run her inspiring therapeutic community for children. James King, who has died aged 86, joined in 1961 and soon became team manager of a group of 15 boys and girls. I knew him as a fellow member of staff and later in my capacity as chair of the trustees. I always valued his progressive views when he later became a trustee himself.

James and his wife, Tessa (nee Wilson), whom he married in 1956, had been working in Buenos Aires, where his father was consul general. They decided they wanted to work with children, but it was not possible to do so in Argentina unless they were Roman Catholics. When the Kings returned to Britain they went to see Rendel, who was bowled over by this handsome young man. After a spell during which he ran two of the Caldecott units, it was quite obvious to Rendel that she had found the person to replace her.

James had felt abandoned himself in a boarding school during the second world war. His parents were in Iran, where his father was serving as the British consul. The experience was probably crucial in forming his attitude to disadvantaged young people. Born in Wadhurst, East Sussex, James was the youngest child of Mary (nee Lowry) and Hazell King, and was educated at Sherborne school and Cambridge University. He was a keen sportsman, which appealed to the Caldecott children.

Rendel died in 1968 and James became director of the community from then until his retirement in 1993. In order to take the community forward in the early 70s and bring about change, James reorganised the way it was structured and set up smaller family units. It was not always easy to take staff along with these changes, but his persistence, good humour and tolerance enabled him to achieve this.

A lasting tribute to James comes from those who were children at the time. They adored him and felt supported long after they had left the community. His concern for the children was particularly valued. One of them recently described him as “an amazing man, and by far the most considerate and balanced person I have ever crossed paths with. A once in a lifetime friend and mentor.”

James was appointed OBE in 1989. After he retired, he was appointed a member of the support force to assist the implementation of the Utting Report (1997) on safeguards for children living away from home.

He is survived by Tessa, their children, Vanessa, Andrew and Matthew, seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

April 2017