By any measure, Jocelyn Barrow, who died last month a few days shy of her 91st birthday, was a formidable presence in British public life, from the time she arrived in London from Trinidad in 1959 to when she retired six years ago.
She rose to prominence during the 1960s as a founder member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) before joining the government’s newly established Community Relations Commission. In 1981 she was appointed governor of the BBC, a role that saw changes in programming and training and Moira Stuart become the first of the BBC’s prime time black news presenters. As a teacher and teacher-trainer, she also pioneered the introduction of multicultural education in British schools and later assisted with Tony Blair’s academisation programme.
A lifelong Bloomsbury resident, she led Community Housing Association in its purchase of 89 houses on the former Calthorpe Estate off Gray’s Inn Road and was vice-chair of Camden Committee for Community Relations. In 1992 she was made a dame and thereafter was usually referred to as ‘DJB’, short for Dame Jocelyn Barrow.
When I interviewed her last year during her 90th birthday celebrations at South Africa House, it was clear she had lost none of the fighting spirit that propelled her to such heights, or her considerable charm. Resplendently attired and majestic in her bearing, she recalled how she became a civil rights activist following a meeting she and future Labour peer David Pitt had with Dr Martin Luther King at Pitt’s GP surgery in North Gower Street, Euston, in 1964. CARD was the result and the organisation lobbied the government to introduce legislation outlawing racial discrimination for the first time.
She tried hard not to laugh while telling me about an encounter with a manager at the Brixton branch of Mark’s and Spencer, which arose following a pledge by the store’s owner, Lord Sieff, to employ more black people. “When I visited, there was a sign advertising vacancies but no black staff. I decided to apply myself but was told by [the manager] that all the vacancies had been filled. I told her, take the notices down then. She said it was none of my business. I said, yes it is, and I produced a letter Lord Sieff had written to me. If she had had a bad heart she would have collapsed .”
Black Cultural Archives chair Dawn Hill, who knew Jocelyn from the 1960s, was among the many people paying tribute to her, describing her as a “great pioneering spirit and true champion of racial equality”.
“In the 1960s there were very few people you could just ring up and ask for help and Jocelyn was one of them,” she told me. “She always gave very good advice and used her position to help so many people.”
In January Jocelyn was admitted to hospital with complications following a broken ankle. She was able to return to her home in Long Yard, Lamb’s Conduit Street, but she fell ill again and died on April 9 at University College Hospital. She leaves her husband Hendy.
This article first appeared in the Camden New Journal on April 16 and was quoted by The Times in its own obituary on May 6