A farewell to Jim Fyrth – report from David Morgan

Friends, family and former colleagues gathered together on the afternoon of 6 November 2010 to pay their tributes to the late Jim Fyrth and to remember a remarkable life.
Held at Birkbeck College, University of London, where for many years Jim taught at its Department for Extra Mural Studies, the occasion was an opportunity for people to reminisce and share memories of a man whose full life and diverse career encompassed his time in the army during which he was stationed in India and met Gandhi, his activism in the Communist Party in West London, his work in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and his role as a teacher and historian.
Historians Sally Alexander, Anna Davin and Sheila Rowbotham all emphasised Jim’s pioneering role in encouraging women’s studies at Birkbeck in the 1970s, long before it became fashionable, which is an aspect of his career perhaps not widely enough appreciated.
His commitment to education was reflected in his unswerving determination to bring educational opportunities to the disadvantaged including the provision of courses for trade unionists in which he took a particularly keen interest.
His wartime autobiography, An Indian Landscape, which was published by the Socialist History Society, contains his account of the meeting with Gandhi, which made a great impression on him. The publication was repeatedly referred to by the speakers.
The brief written message from Gandhi that is mentioned in that book was on display at the memorial along with photographs of Jim and his family as well as examples of his many published works.
Many humorous anecdotes were recounted at the memorial as were serious incidents like the occasion during the war when he was jailed for six months after being caught reading “banned literature”, namely Communist Party pamphlets and The Daily Worker.
Jim’s longstanding commitment to the study of history was underlined by David Morgan, the Secretary of the Socialist History society, who was asked to say a few words about Jim’s contribution to the work of the society and its predecessor the Communist Party Historians’ Group. A few other members of the Socialist History Society were also present.
Jim was fondly remembered for his erudition and sharp wit and what each of the speakers brought out were the values that inspired him to the end: his love of life and nature, his personal vision of socialism and strong sense of comradeship.
His personal papers are soon to be deposited at the Bishopsgate Institute which intends to create a Jim Fyrth Archive.

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November 2010

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