Committed socialist co-operator with a big heart

Mike Davis remembers James Grayson

James was the only friend I knew who resisted email and wrote letters or articles to me using the suffix “esquire”. Jim, who died recently aged 69 of prostate cancer, had been a loyal and reliable member of Chartist‘s EB and management board for over ten years. He regularly helped on Chartist production, assiduously proofing articles and submitting reviews. He was a stickler for grammar. “Never start a sentence with ‘but’,” he would constantly remind us.

Jim (as many called him) was born in Huddersfield. He left school at 17 and taught French for a year, having secured an early place at Exeter College, Oxford to study PPE. This was where he met Elizabeth, his wife, and gave her lessons on his motorcycle, being a keen biker in his younger years. Most of his career was spent working in the NHS, mostly in administration. He was an active member of NALGO (now Unison). Jim was a committed socialist, internationalist and co-operator for most of his adult life. Before joining Chartist EB he had been a regular contributor to Liberation (the ex-Movement for Colonial Freedom) and its magazine. As with Chartist, copies of Liberation would be passed round at monthly Tower Hamlets Co-operative Party meetings, along with books from his personal collection (thoughtfully allocated according to interest or need for education) and bottles of beer given to visiting speakers. He was a kind and generous man, supportive of friends in need. He had been chair of the Co-op for as long as many of us could remember, and while stroking his long white beard would provide lengthy anecdotes on labyrinthine regional Co-op meetings or explanations of Labour Party events and debates from times past. He was extremely well-read and a mine of local information, also serving on the Parmiter’s Almshouse and Pension Charity and the Bethnal Green Poor Lands Charity. He fought hard for local causes, battling planning applications to protect open space, as Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs reminded mourners.

Along with Elizabeth, Jim was always dependable to bring the Co-op banner to May Day (his birth date) and other marches, where he would attach sturdy poles to a holster strapped round his waist. Essential to these political gatherings was retirement to any nearby pub that sold real ale. He was a long-time supporter of CAMRA and knew virtually every East End hostelry worth a pint. The landlord of the Eleanor Arms in Old Ford Road, one of his favourite watering holes, gave a heartfelt tribute at his funeral. He inaugurated the annual Chartist new year social at the Royal Oak in Borough, another of his favourite pubs, and was a regular on the annual visits to the Hop Festival at Faversham.

Jim was a tenacious fighter for social justice and a committed anti-racist whilst remaining a proud Yorkshireman. He spent his life working to make the world a better place, doing small acts to make a change as well as keeping his eye on the bigger anti-capitalist battles.

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