Joseph David OBE

Joseph David OBE

22 March 1928
Treforest, South Wales
16 March 2024
London, United Kingdom
Words by
Alun David Son

[The material for this hesped was contributed by Joseph David’s children, Keren, Alun, and Deborah. The hesped was drafted by Alun and edited by Keren and Deborah. Deborah and Alun read it at the levaya.]

Thank you all for being here today.

Our father’s life was long, full, distinguished, and happy. He enjoyed many blessings, including amongst others great intelligence, an indomitable spirit, and a virtually unquenchable appetite for company. He also had a ready wit, a mischievous light in his eye, and impeccable comic timing.

Dad was indeed, a remarkably sociable person, skilled at making and keeping friends. His life touched those of so many others for the better, as many of you have told us in your kind messages. It is a wonderful comfort to know that so many people will cherish his memory, just as he cherished his wide circle of friends and relations.

extraordinary record of achievement

Let us start by addressing a subject that cannot be ignored, his extraordinary record of achievement. Everyone who knew him well will acknowledge how much the award of an OBE meant to him, an honour which was earned through years of voluntary service to the textile industry, as he served on committee after committee at the British Standards Institute. Yet this was merely the tip of a massive iceberg. After studying chemistry and textile technology, he did his national service in industry, and worked at the Bradford Dyers Association. There he showed himself to be a brilliant innovator. In his early twenties, he invented Quintafix, a revolutionary finish for cottons, created for the Duchess of Kent’s tour of the Far East in 1952. Quintafix made a fortune for the Bradford Dyers’ Association and for Horrockses Fashions (although not so much for Dad, who didn’t even get a bonus).

Soon, though, he gained the opportunity to excel in other spheres. After his national service, he was hired as a bench chemist at Catomance plc in Welwyn Garden City, where he rose to become Chairman and Managing Director of the company. He steered the firm to great commercial success, especially through contracts in the defence industry (including work for the UK, US, and Israeli governments, which he was not meant to talk about). It began a remarkable run of senior appointments. He was President of the British Wood Preservers and Pest Control Associations, and a Fellow of the University of Hertfordshire. He held positions of responsibility in B’nai Brith and in Masonic Lodges. At the same time, he was active in local disability charities and supported many aspects of Jewish life, including over sixty years as a stalwart member of Welwyn Garden City Hebrew Congregation.

Dad’s father taught him to make Molotov cocktails and handle a gun

It is an amazing record, all the more remarkable in the light of Dad’s origins. He did not have a privileged background, and he experienced real hardship as he was growing up. He was born in South Wales in 1928, and spent his childhood in Treforest, a village near the town of Pontypridd. The fact that Dad and his two brothers went into higher education was considered noteworthy enough to be reported in the local newspaper. He was eleven years old at the start of World War II, grew up in the shadow of war, and attended Manchester Technical College during the years of post-war austerity. Those were the bleakest of times. During the war, there was a constant fear of Nazi invasion. Dad’s father taught him to make Molotov cocktails and handle a gun, instructing him that if the Nazis invaded, he was to kill his mother and brothers, then try and shoot as many Germans as he could. It was a devastating position to be put in, which weighed heavily with Dad for the rest of his life.

As a student during post-war austerity, he experienced severe hunger, mainly, he explained, because he refused to get involved in the black market. He maintained that he was only saved from starvation by the fact that he found lodgings with a kosher butcher. No wonder that in later life he enjoyed his creature comforts. He loved toffee, and fish and chips, and was fond of a lemonade shandy too.

a macher and an organiser par excellence

All the same, Dad did have a wonderful start in life, thanks to his parents, Grandpa Morris and Grandma Goldie. Grandpa Morris was born in Warsaw, the son of a Torah scholar who studied with the Chofetz Chaim. He had very strong views about how Jewish tradition should be interpreted and practised; he lost no time in recruiting his eldest son as an ally in his campaigns to have things done properly. At that time, there was a sizeable Jewish population in South Wales. By the age of eleven, Dad was secretary of the local chevre kadisha, cycling through the Welsh valleys to help Jews make their burial arrangements. That early experience set a pattern for Dad. Throughout his life he was a macher and an organiser par excellence, someone who understood responsibility, and achieved great things through a winning combination of charm, persuasion, and hard graft.

If Grandpa Morris set the tone for Dad with regard to communal service, Grandma Goldie instilled in him an ethic of education and self-improvement. A former teacher, she was forced to give up her job when she married. That was the law at the time. She was an extremely charming lady, and at the same time utterly formidable. When Dad went to university, she sent letters and postcards back to him with corrections marked in red. Some might have wilted under that kind of pressure, and in truth she was one of the very few people who could consistently drive Dad to distraction. But he took the need to study and improve himself to heart. To give just one example, at school, he was so bad at languages that he was made to follow the French master around all day for extra practice. Yet, when we were growing up, Dad had developed the habit of reading French novels pretty much every night of the week (he had a remarkable facility for speed reading, and could polish off a book of many hundreds of pages in a few hours), and we would wake up to the sound of French radio.

credited Dr Higgins with civilising him

As his career developed, Dad found other teachers and motivators. An especially important figure was Dr Higgins, the managing director of Catomance, who took Dad under his wing when he joined, giving him weekly tutorials on great works of literature and culture. Dad credited Dr Higgins with civilising him. Ever after, he would love to ask people pointed questions such as, “Have you read Froissart’s Chronicles?”, or “Do you like art?”. You were especially likely to be quizzed in this way if you happened to be a potential son-in-law.

But the most important person behind Dad’s flourishing in life was undoubtedly Mum. Theirs was a truly extraordinary partnership. It nearly didn’t happen. Having fallen in love with her at first sight at a party (a “coup de foudre”, or a lightning bolt, as he liked to put it), Dad used to go to listen to her choir practice, then began proposing marriage to Mum more or less whenever he met her, until finally she gave her agreement. She would say that he wore her down, but also that in the end, she didn’t want anyone else to have him. From there a relationship blossomed that lasted more than sixty three years. When asked what his greatest achievement in life was, Dad would say, “persuading your mother to marry me.”

Mum and Dad were completely devoted to each other. It is fair to say that Mum’s self-sacrifice in shouldering extra domestic responsibilities enabled Dad to focus on realising his professional potential; to develop his technical expertise, his network of contacts, his commercial acumen. Yet Dad was a supportive husband and an engaged father. He delighted in Mum’s skill and happiness as she successfully turned her hand to guitar teaching. After Deborah was born, and Mum was unwell, Dad joyfully took on much of the responsibility of caring for his new daughter. For years after, he would continue to make Deborah’s favourite dessert, “Specials”, a bespoke combination of jam, hundreds and thousands, and Angel Delight. He also developed a whole genre of children’s stories, in which Deborah was the hero, and at the end of which statues to her brilliance were erected.

a marriage of true minds

Mum and Dad enjoyed a marriage of true minds, based both on love and on a shared philosophy of life. It should be emphasised how much their partnership depended on a shared idea of a Jewish home as both a private space, imbued with a sense of tradition, and also a means of doing good works, for example by offering hospitality to members of the community, which we remember occurring on most Yomtovim or Shabbatot. In the sedra last Shabbat, we read again of the construction of the mishkan, the tabernacle where G-d would dwell with the Israelites. Mum and Dad created their own repository of Jewish values, which gave them, and us, their children, a sure foundation on which to build.

Dad loved his work and was justifiably proud of all he achieved. In his later years he would tell us that he gave up work too early. In truth, after his retirement from Catomance, he was always busy with new projects and activities, including setting up a bus company for the University of Hertfordshire. But we should take him at his word in seeing his family, friendships, and communal life as his greatest satisfaction. Sometimes he expressed a certain distaste for aspects of the business world. “I’m too honest ever to be a wealthy man” he would complain. On the other hand, he continued to reap pleasure from the achievements and activities of his children and grandchildren. He was overjoyed when he went to the library in Welwyn Garden City and saw Keren’s novels presented in a display as the work of a local author. He experienced utter delight when he was able to dandle on his knee his beautiful great-grandson Zachary. On a different note, Alun was greatly reassured when he lent his enthusiastic support to his recent move back to Welwyn Garden.

a fascinating, complicated character

He was a fascinating, complicated character; an outstanding technologist and businessman, a wonderful friend, and a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He could be a terrible wind-up merchant, a contrarian who loved to argue the toss, especially when he could provoke his children and others with outrageous claims backed up with a barrage of made-up statistics. He was tough-minded, not easily swayed from his opinions, and a survivor. At the same time, he was a person of emotional intelligence, warmth, wisdom, and kindness.

In his last years, he faced the immense challenge of life without his partner. He stayed alone in their house for a year, and then moved to Hammerson House in Hampstead. We felt privileged and blessed to share this time with him and see him become more open emotionally. He was lucid and gracious to the end, mourning Mum deeply, but making new friendships and cherishing old ones. And, encouraged by Keziah, a facilitator at Hammerson, he took to writing poetry, often using metaphors and similes from his early career in textiles and dyes: “I care very much about words,” he told Alun.

We would like to end by reading out one of his poems. It is about Mum and also about being honest and brave, two qualities which he possessed in abundance. We think it is beautiful. It is also very much him.

Poetry needs to cry

To ask for the lost

The impossible

The reminder is all we have

Years of service, love and patience

All summed up in our motto: Yes dear