In loving memory of James Ross who sadly passed away on 2nd July 2020

Memories of Claire Heafford (Granddaughter)

My grandfather James Ross was a very special man. He was warm, playful and very funny.

James was not only dearly loved by his wife of 69 years, Jean, by his children Joy & Andrew, and by his 4 grandchildren; but also by the many people he met and worked with throughout his life.

If you’d have told 10 year old James, how rich and joyful his life would be - I reckon he’d have said ‘you’re pulling my leg!’ But rich it was.

He may have come from humble roots, but all things considered he lived like a king. During his 91 year of extraordinary life, he even spent 4 years living in a castle; met Princess Margaret & the Queen Mother.

His life began in Manchester in 1929. Born to Alexander Ross and Hilda Abrams. He was the third son of the family, with two elder brothers Alex and Ted, and a cherished younger sister, Pat.

James’ father worked as compositor at the Manchester Guardian and instilled in him a life long love of learning.

James didn’t have the easiest start in life. At the age of 4 he developed a form of paralysis and spent an extended period of time in a full body plaster cast.

While recuperating he was sent to the Isle of Man, and it was perhaps this early experience of confinement, that paved the way for his work with disabled children in later life - and created in him an enthusiasm to make the most of every opportunity he was offered.

A committed Christian from the age 15, after National Service he studied at Cliff College and completed his local preaches exams. James and his young family had some wonderful years living in Lincoln and Carlisle. First managing a youth centre and later running a conference Center for the Cooperative Society, at the 15th Century border castle, Dalston Hall.

While living in Cumbria, James enjoyed riding daily with his beloved horses Melody & Silver, and in 1962 even stood as an independent candidate in his local council elections.

In 1964 James was then invited to run International House; an interdenominational hall of residence for students in Woolwich, where he had the opportunity to meet and experience a huge variety of people & cultures many decades before London became truly multi-cultural.

Over the years, through his work and ministry, James developed a love of travel. He and his young family spent the 60’s & 70’s enjoying wonderful family holidays on their boat and traveling around Europe in their VW camper van.

Endlessly inventive and highly self-reliant, James engaged in life long learning through evening classes wherever he went. He started by doing a diploma in sociology & politics, then moved onto courses in psychology, social work, ceramics, navigation, theology, painting, accordion lessons, violin making and computing.

Born and raised in the era of make do and mend, James was endlessly adventurous, with a DIY mentality and an active imagination. As well as being self-reliant and inventive, James was also a truly playful man.

When I was young, he organised games and entertained my friends at birthday parties, he taught me and my cousins to draw and paint - and spent hours in the garden with us, planting vegetables and chatting. He was also a keen eater of sweets!

In James’ opinion, there was nothing that a lemon sherbet, a mint humbug or a liquorice allsort couldn’t sort out, and tins, jars and bags of sweet treats could be found in many a cupboard or pocket. I’m not sure where his sweet tooth came from, perhaps from his time spent as an evacuee in Blackpool during the war, but over the years, sweets became a way to connect with friends and loved ones.

Only once did we have a disagreement. It was Christmas, and the family sat around the table for an evening meal of cold cuts and cake. Grandpa had gone to great lengths, as always, to decorate the house from top to bottom with reams and reams of tinsel. The main lights were off. The fairy lights were on. And as we began to eat, it became clear we were all having difficulty seeing what we were eating. My mother and I started laughing, we thought it was hilarious that we couldn’t see our food. But grandpa was so hurt by our laughter, he got cross and left the room.

I guess this might seem like a silly story, but to me it speaks volumes of the emotional landscapes that existed for James on the inside. His need to do well, and not disappoint, the huge amounts of effort he always put in to everything and his love for his family and passion to provide.

I think this was really the first time I saw grandpa’s sensitive side. He was always so positive and full of life, but he also felt things very deeply.

On that occasion, his sensitivity made him easy to offend, but it was also what drove him to dedicate his life to helping others through his social work and fellowship.

From when I was born, grandpa worked with Sir Brian Rix as a Director of Welfare and Right at Mencap; a charity dedicated to supporting people with learning disabilities.

He felt passionately that all children should have access to education and support and he worked hard on developing government legislation to ensure all children in England, no matter how disabled, had the legal right to an education.

One year he dressed up as Santa and flew around in a helicopter delivering gifts to kids in hospital.

Whether it was lobbying the government or awarding brownie gardening badges at church, his work made me proud, because I knew not everyone’s grandpa was so open hearted and did such amazing things.

In my teens James wasn’t just a grandfather to me, he became a friend too. And in his latter years, I’d often take grandpa on drives through country lanes around the downs and out through Mole valley to Box hill.

It didn’t matter how many times we’d go - he’d always say the same thing. ‘Look at the trees Claire’. ‘We really are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place.’

And for me, this process of driving to the same place and repeating the same mantra, taught me the most important lesson there is to learn in life. A wisdom that the elders among us know well. That no matter how narrow the scope of your world becomes, it’s the appreciation of the details that keeps your world rich.

I’ll be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to learn this lesson from my grandfather - and that no matter what challenges I’m faced with in life, I know I’ll be fine so long as I can take the time to appreciate the beauty of nature.

I’d like to finish paying tribute to my grandfather by saying this:

When I was younger, we went on a lot of camping holidays together in my grandparent’s caravan. I have many wonderful memories from those special times - and no matter where we went, Grandpa could be found chatting to whoever would listen.

He particularly loved the challenge of making people laugh, and on more than one occasion he did this by inviting the men in the campsite’s wash rooms to sing songs with him while they shaved.

His cheeky spirit meant that he didn’t like people to leave his company without them having a smile on their face. And for those less easily tickled by his cheeky remarks, there was a poem he loved to recite with as much theatricality as he could muster... it never failed to produce the desired effect.

Smiling Is Infectious

                                              Smiling is infectious,
                                              You catch it like the flu,
                                              When someone smiled at me today,
                                              I started smiling too.
                                              I passed around the corner
                                              And someone saw my grin.
                                              When he smiled I realized
                                              I'd passed it on to him.
                                              I thought about that smile,
                                             Then I realized its worth.
                                             A single smile, just like mine
                                            Could travel round the Earth.
                                            So, if you feel a smile begin,
                                            Don't leave it undetected.
                                            Let's start an epidemic quick,
                                            And get the world infected!

Rest in peace Grandpa James. Your spirit will live on in the flowers we plant,
the gardens we keep and the smiles we spread.

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