Eric Jay obituary

Other lives: Former Methodist minister who played a key role in the work of London’s race and community relations bodies

My friend Eric Jay, who has died aged 95, was a former Methodist minister who played a significant role in the work of London’s race and community relations bodies during the 1970s and 80s.

Eric spent almost a decade as director of the Camden Commission for Community Relations from 1973 until 1981, after which he was appointed director of Greater London Action for Racial Equality, a consortium of all the community relations councils in London. In 1988 he left that job to become a consultant with the Commission for Racial Equality, staying in the role for two years until his retirement.

Eric was born in Battersea, south-west London, to Charles Jay, a carpenter, and his wife, Florence (nee Armitage). After the Royal Liberty school in Romford, Essex, he began work as a 16-year-old cub reporter on the Romford Recorder during the second world war before being called up in 1944 to take part in the Normandy landings.

After the war Eric decided to become a Methodist minister, and went to study at Handsworth Theological College in Birmingham in 1948. Working first as a trainee minister in south-east London, first at Eltham Green and then Bexleyheath, he became a full minister serving in East Sussex and Kent before being sent with his wife and young family in 1960 to Jamaica.

On returning to Britain in 1964 he spent a year editing the worldwide Methodist magazine before becoming international secretary of the Christian Education Movement and then, from 1968, head of Christian Aid’s education department, focusing on adult education and international development.

By 1973 he had lost his strong religious faith and had graduated, in his own words, to being “a post-Christian liberal”. So he left the ministry and took up the directorship of the Camden Commission for Community Relations. In that role, as in all his subsequent ones, Eric was a campaigner for social and racial equality.

In retirement he rediscovered his passion for acting (he had been an enthusiastic performer in Stars in Battledress during the war), and undertook masterclasses in Shakespeare. Later, after moving to Bristol, he acted with the Barebones and Act V theatre companies, including as Prospero, Sir Toby Belch and King Lear. Drawing on his gift as a preacher, he had tremendous powers as an actor and great sensitivity, studying roles with the application he had once used when putting together sermons.

He is survived by his third wife, Trish Ferguson, whom he married in 2000, his children, Hilary, Liz and Stevie, from his first marriage, to Muriel Harris, which ended in divorce, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Briony Waite

The GuardianTramp

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