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Charity sector pays tribute to Lord Joffe

Charity sector pays tribute to Lord Joffe

Lord Joffe, Oxfam’s former Chair and the lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial, has passed away at the age of 85.

Lord Joffe died on Sunday 18th June at his home in Liddington, Wiltshire. Born in 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa, as a young lawyer he defended Nelson Mandela in the 1963-4 Rivonia Trial. Then exiled to Britain in 1965 and unable to practice law without retraining, he first worked at insurance company Abbey Life before founding Hambro Life Assurance with Abbey Life founder Mark Weinberg, which became Allied Dunbar. Hambro Life was one of the first British companies to give a percentage of profits to a charitable trust, and Joffe also set up the Per Cent Club, which encouraged other companies to do the same.

Later, he became involved with Oxfam and remained so for 20 years, including as Chair from 1995 to 2001. Lord Joffe was awarded the CBE in 1999, and in 2000 became a Labour peer as Baron Joffe of Liddington. In later life, he campaigned tirelessly for assisted dying for the terminally ill.

Among his other, many, achievements, from 1974 to 1993 Lord Joffe was Founding Trustee and then Chairman of the Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust, and from 2000 to 2004, Chair of the Giving Campaign. He also set up his own charity, the Joffe Charitable Trust, which gave millions every year to mainly African causes.

The charity sector has paid tribute to Lord Joffe:

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive, said:

“Joel had an enormous influence on Oxfam and its staff for over 20 years. His unswerving sense of justice and commitment to ending poverty was an inspiration to all those who worked with him. He was able to use his sharp legal mind and years of experience in business to challenge authority and increase the effectiveness of our work around the world. His fearless campaigning for care of the elderly, corporate responsibility and global development shaped the world for the better yet he always maintained his trademark self-deprecating sense of humour. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

The Joffe Charitable Trust says on its website:

“He was a friend, inspiration and support to many fighting poverty and injustice. The Joffe Charitable Trust will continue to work for these goals.”

Humanists UK described his passing as “a profound loss to the humanist movement”, and said that Lord Joffe would be remembered for his lifetime of good works and his support for a range of humanist causes: prominent among them the right to die.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

“Over the course of his life, Joel was driven by a sense that the world was full of injustice but that we as human beings, by applying our intellects and engaging our hearts, were more than capable of creating a just world for us all. This optimism made him a relentless campaigner and funder for a number of causes that were dear to his heart, and we at Humanists UK were very lucky to have been among them. We will remember Joel fondly for his towering intellect, big heart, and tremendous sense of fun, along with the many great contributions he made towards a fairer society for all.’

A statement from Dignity in Dying said:

“All of us at Dignity in Dying are devastated to hear of Lord Joffe’s death. Joel was a passionate campaigner and an exceptional advocate for the legalisation of assisted dying. Joel’s legacy as a pioneering campaigner and passionate advocate will live on for many years to come.”

Fundraising consultant Ken Burnett, also paid a heartfelt tribute to Lord Joffe, highlighting his generous nature, and his support in the setting up of SOFII:

“I first met Lord Joel Joffe when he was the established chair of Oxfam and I was the newly elevated, rather green chair of trustees at ActionAid. Joel took me under his wing, generously sharing his rich experiences and ideas for what goes into being an effective board chair.

“Late in 2007 I had an outlandish idea for an online archive of great fundraising ideas that could be freely shared with charities so they don’t constantly have to reinvent the wheel. I contacted Joel to get his advice for how to turn this idea into reality.

“He set up a meeting for me at the House of Lords. Before I started he said, ‘Look Ken, you should realise that the Joffe Trust won’t be able to help you as, however great this idea of yours is, it sounds as if it isn’t going to fall within our remit, and we have to be strict about that. But I may be able to point you in some directions.

So I made my pitch. It was just before Christmas. Joel asked some questions and seemed impressed by the idea, then wished me well. But he made it clear I shouldn’t expect too much, that my wild idea was outside the scope of the Joffe Trust. Then, on Boxing Day, December 26th he called me at home to say he’d been thinking about it, loved the idea and wanted to give SOFII a single gift of £25,000, with the sole stipulation that we put in place a plan to become financially self-sufficient. We did just that. Without this catalytic investment SOFII may well not have survived the leap from dream to reality. Thanks Joel.”

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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