James Partrige OBE

Doctor of Science

15 July 2005 - Orator: Councillor Bill Martin

Madam Chancellor: James Partridge

It is Friday, not Sunday, and we are in the Great Hall of the University, up the hill, not in the pulpit of St Marks, down the hill; but the first text for today is taken from the general Epistle of St James to the early Christian church, Chapter 1 v 22 “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only”.

A second, and secular, exhortation came from an older lady of my acquaintance who in my youth gave much sound instruction and advice.  She was my Grandma and her instruction was that “all of us can, but only some of us do”.

This afternoon, I wish to introduce to you, albeit briefly, a man who ‘does’.

James Partridge is one of four children, born to John Partridge, a Queen Elizabeth Hospital orphan scholar from Bedminster who was the son of a Bristol boot and shoe maker.  John Partridge left school at 15 to join Imperial Tobacco in 1923 where he worked all his life; rising through the company to become Chairman in 1964.  Partridge senior was a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol and President of the Confederation of British Industry.  He was knighted in 1971.  In the same year he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from this University.

Today’s ceremony marks the first instance, Madam Chancellor, of a father and son having both received honorary Bristol degrees.

James was born locally in Chipping Sodbury and spent his formative years in the Bristol area, living in Flax Bourton just outside the City, and attending, as a boarder, Clifton College.

Having taken the usual GCE ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels, he stayed on for an extra term in order to sit the Oxford Entrance examinations in the late Autumn of 1970.  He was looking forward to his ‘gap’ year of work and travel.

It was shortly after sitting these final exams, and three days before leaving school that James, with a number of school friends and a master from Clifton College was driving to North Wales for a weekend’s walking.  Driving north on the 5th December, on a cold wet night from Chepstow towards Usk, the Land Rover in which the party was travelling overturned on a left-hand bend and skidded on its driver’s side across the carriageway.

In Land Rovers of that vintage, the petrol tank was located under the driver’s seat, and James Partridge, who was driving that evening was enveloped in flames when the tank exploded. 

Narrowly escaping with his life, James suffered 40% burns and subsequently lost a number of fingers.  The other travellers were more fortunate, emerging virtually unscathed, with just one of them sustaining burns to his legs.

But James considered himself very lucky as in the car behind was a trained nurse and her fiancé who, sacrificing her coat and their night out, drove him at speed to Chepstow where the hospital had a burns unit. He was then just 18, and his “gap” was to be spent in the Burns Unit of Queen Mary’s Hospital, at Roehampton, where he had to undergo a great deal of plastic surgery and associated treatment. (It is a mark of the man, that 35 years on, the nurse and James are still in touch.)

Despite this trauma James Partridge was determined to take up his place at University College Oxford and between 1971 and 1975 read for his degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.  During the vacations, when most of his contemporaries were travelling or working, James Partridge went back to Roehampton again and again and again for more surgery.  During all of this time, a strong interest in health care, health promotion and illness prevention was born and grew in him, leading to three years - further study, this time at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he was awarded a Master of Science degree in Medical Demography.

Between 1976 and 1979 James worked for the National Health Service, firstly as an Assistant Lecturer in Health Economics at St Thomas’s and subsequently as a Research Fellow at Guy’s. 

It was during this time, in the middle of 1977, that James met his future wife Caroline Scofield, and they were married the following year.  There is another link with Bristol and this University for Caroline Partridge took her post-graduate diploma and her Masters degree at this institution as well as subsequently joining the staff of the Veterinary School for a period. 

The couple, not long after, decided to move to Caroline’s native Guernsey.  Buying a derelict farm, they spent some years gradually rebuilding the property, building a herd of Guernsey cows and becoming involved in Island life.  Other ‘building’ also took place, that of their family of three children; Simon, Charlotte and Harriet.  James Partridge also found time to teach A Level Economics at The Ladies College, and be appointed both to the States of Guernsey Agricultural and Milk Marketing Board and to the States of Guernsey Board of Health’s Ethical Committee.  He even found time to be part time Consultant to University College Hospital’s Phoenix Appeal. 

In 1990 and after the series of disastrous fires, at the Bradford football ground, Kings Cross station and on Piper Alpha, James Partridge met Paddy Downie, an Editor of Faber and Faber who encouraged him to write the book ‘Changing Faces’.  James says that he wrote it as a dairy farmer but its publication by Penguin completely changed his life.  Radio interviews and television appearances soon followed and, in one such, the Gloria Hunniford show, he met Nicola Rumsey, now Professor of Social Psychology of Facial Appearance, who had written widely on the psychology of disfigurement.  I understand that Professor Rumsey said that the Guernsey cow farmer totally eclipsed the academic expert and then went on to steal the show.  This meeting was to be another life-changing moment in the life of James Partridge, for the academic and the farmer, whilst talking, realised that by different routes, they had reached very similar conclusions on the effects of disfigurement.

· That many people had problems of social interaction following disfigurement

· The huge scale of the problem, with up to 400,000 people affected in Britain.

· The lack of training, especially in social skills for people with disfigurement.

· The lack of public understanding and, the links between all these elements.

So, James Partridge began to develop and run small programmes, initially working with individual and families, and gradually building up to work with the National Health Service, training their professionals.  In schools, training teachers.  In companies and other organisations, training employers and staff and also working with the Government.

However, the success of these programmes and the need to develop them required a radical change to the lives of the Family Partridge.  They had to move back to the mainland. This meant leaving the farmhouse which they worked hard to restore, leaving the farm, leaving the farm animals, leaving friends and colleagues.

But, back it was to James Partridge’s beloved Bristol, to Redland, with wife and children, the cats and the dogs, the guinea pig and the parrot and also with Moonshine and Stardust, the goats.  What their Redland neighbours thought of this menagerie I do not know but there cannot be too many folk in that part of the fair city of Bristol whose wake-up call is by the dulcet tones of a neutered billy goat.

It was in 1992 that James founded the organisation Changing Faces.  It was based in London, with James commuting from Bristol three times a week.  Its aims were to change attitudes to facial disfigurement by facts underpinned by evidence and backed up by research; to pioneer unique life skills programmes for people with disfigurement, their families and friends; to campaign, educate and inform society at large; and, perhaps most importantly, to support the thrivors, as James calls them, in their daily lives.

‘Changing Faces’ not only does this important work with burns victims, but with a wide range of other disfigurements, including birthmarks, Bells Palsy, cleft lips and palates, facial cancer, those involved in road traffic accidents, industrial injury, violent attacks and a range of other conditions.  Changing Faces is unique, there is no other organisation like it anywhere in the world.

Changing Faces believes that a successful life is possible for those with disfigurement.

- that we can and should accept people for what they are and who they are.

- that with training, encouragement and support people with disfigurement can face life with confidence

- that discrimination can be confronted.

Over the last dozen or so years Changing Faces has, under the leadership of its Founder, helped thousands of people and their families.  That work is growing, its literature is being translated into many languages and there are opportunities to expand its valuable work across Britain and beyond.

Changing Faces has also been active on the research front with our sister organisation, the University of the West of England, where the Centre for Appearance Research was founded and five years of core funding was provided by Changing Faces to give it a good start.  Additionally the charity has created, in partnership with the North Bristol NHS Trust, the world’s first Disfigurement Support Unit at Frenchay Hospital.  Also, after hard lobbying disfigurement was included in the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.  Additionally, a new purpose-designed Centre has been built in Central London so that their activities can continue to grow. 

But whilst James Partridge has been busy building Changing Faces, he has not been idle elsewhere, he holds and has held a total of 12 other honorary and visiting appointments in connection with his work.

Yet, even that is not enough.  James, and a friend, by name Phil Friend, of Churchill and Friend, a very successful businessman and helper, often found themselves invited to dinner by companies, trusts, statutory bodies and so on, as “token crips”.

As you can imagine being a ‘token’ anything did not go down well with James Partridge.  So, Phil and James started “Dining with a Difference”.  Simply put, James and Phil host dinners, usually monthly and aimed specifically at large organisations e.g. Royal Mail, Lloyds Bank etc.  Getting a “captive” audience of Board Members and Senior Executives, they explain the good business case for employing people with disabilities.  After all £60 billion of spending power can’t be wrong. 

Recently, Classic FM has been broadcasting a series of trailers regarding employing people with disability.  One describes a person with an almost crippling back problem, such that on some days he could hardly get out of bed.  Another talks about a man who for much of his life had severe bouts of depression.

Unknowingly, many employers would have rejected both as possible employees. 

The first was John F Kennedy and the second Winston Churchill.

Dining with a Difference’s message is equally clear, look past the disability to the person and what they can bring to your organisation.

James has achieved growing recognition.

In 1992, he was one of RADAR’s “People of the Year”

In 1999, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of the West of England

In 2002, he was appointed OBE in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Birthday Honours

In 2003, he won a Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award.

And only two weeks ago the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, conferred upon him an Honorary Fellowship.

Madame Chancellor

I present to you James Partrige OBE, DSc, MSc, MA, Bristolian, economist, writer, farmer, lecturer, consultant, Symposium Director, broadcaster, business man, Founder of Changing Faces and bringer of hope to many as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


Edit this page