Christopher Zealley obituary

Other lives: Director of Dartington Hall Trust for 18 years

Christopher Zealley, who has died aged 87, was a highly respected figure within the voluntary sector. As a trustee and director of numerous charities, including director of Dartington Hall Trust for 18 years from 1970, Chris combined business discipline with a real understanding of what charities could achieve.

A valued mentor to a number of chief executives, Chris was a great help to me when I was chair of Dartington Hall Trust (2008-15). When director there, he had had to implement some difficult decisions, including the closure of Dartington Hall school, and, in order to secure its long-term future, the streamlining of the trust’s activities.

Chris worked in both the voluntary and commercial sectors. He became chair of the Consumer Association in 1976, followed by chair of Which? three years later, and championed the innovative introduction of a split of the management between their respective charitable and commercial activities, a model that is now widely used. He remained a council member of Which? until 2007.

Born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, Chris was the son of Sir Alec Zealley, an industrial chemist, and Nellie (nee King), a mathematician. He studied at Sherborne school, Dorset, from where he gained a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, and studied law. He had a beautiful tenor voice and played the violin. Singing and choral music were his lifeblood; if he was not singing in choirs he was attending concerts or listening to choral music in his study.

In 1955, Chris followed in the footsteps of his father and joined ICI. Spotted as a high flier, in 1967 he was selected as one of Frank Kearton’s proteges within the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, an initiative by the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, to rejuvenate British industry.

But after three years Chris took the opportunity to move out of London to work at the Dartington Hall Trust, Devon, with Leonard Elmhirst, who had co-founded the rural regeneration project with his wife, Dorothy. Leonard had been inspired by a similar project in West Bengal begun by the poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Chris was trustee and board member of many organisations, including the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro, 1974-82), and the Charities Aid Foundation (1982-90); and chair of the Public Interest Research Centre (1972-2010) and the Accreditation Bureau for Fundraising Organisations (1997-2007). He was also, for many years, chair of the EU Chamber Orchestra Trust.

Chris was one of life’s true polymaths, a man of strong intellect and great warmth. With a wicked sense of humour and a glint in his eye, he was as equally at home in the corporate boardroom, leading a third-sector organisation, or participating in a community choir.

He married Ann Sandwith, a teacher, in 1966. She survives him, as do their children, Robert and Elizabeth.


David Green

The GuardianTramp

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