Patrick Kodikara obituary

Other Lives: Social services director, race equality activist and Labour councillor

Patrick Kodikara, who has died aged 82, spent four decades working in senior social services roles across London, and was appointed as the UK’s first black director of social services – in Camden – in 1983.

He was born in Negombo in Sri Lanka to Gregory Kodikara, a tax collector, and his wife, Gladys (nee Fonseka), a housewife. Following schooling at St Joseph’s college in Colombo he came to England in 1961 on a scholarship to study social work at the London School of Economics, after which he took up various social work posts abroad, including in Singapore, until returning to the UK in the late 60s as head of social work at Friern hospital in north London.

In the early 70s he became a senior social worker at the London borough of Hackney before moving to be an area manager with Southwark social services and then, in the late 70s, assistant director of social services at Tower Hamlets. His final move was to Camden, where he was appointed director of social services in 1983.

Outside his work, in the late 70s and early 80s Patrick worked tirelessly for racial equality as a member of Hackney Community Relations Council, Hackney Asian Association and the Hackney Committee Against Racism. He was also a Labour party councillor in Hackney from 1978 to 1986, during which time he was the council’s chair of social services (1982-86). With Gordon Peters, the social services director there, he pursued a radical agenda, including the then controversial idea of ensuring that children were adopted by people of the same race and religion wherever possible.

Gregarious, charming, brave and always political, he had a talent for swooping down on an issue of the moment, drawing clear lines, and then mobilising his personal energy and charisma to create a bandwagon of support.

In retirement he lived between Sri Lanka, Liverpool and Hackney before settling back near Negombo.

In the 60s he met and married Rajamani Rowley (nee Nagarajah), and they had two daughters, Renu and Rekha, before a divorce in 1973. We met in 1969, he took on a stepfather role to my son, Max, and through our partnership we had a daughter, Suneetha.

Later Patrick married Cathy Warnock, and they had a daughter, Nelum, before divorcing in 1985. His next marriage, to Salli Whitaker, which also ended in divorce, brought him a son, Gregory. In 2002 he embarked on his final marriage, to Lakshi Perera, who nursed him devotedly in his final months.

He is survived by Lakshi, his five children, six grandchildren and his sister Philomena. His previous partners have mainly remained close, with his children, and half and step siblings, seeing themselves as part of one family.

Dinah Morley

The GuardianTramp

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