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Richard Rowntree (1921-1997)

Richard Rowntree was a man who spent his life contributing to the wider community. He was active in politics, serving as a County Councillor and standing as a Liberal candidate for Parliament twice. He was also closely involved in Quaker affairs, devoting his energy to national committee work.

Richard grew up in North Yorkshire, the youngest of Arnold and Mary Rowntree’s children. He followed other members of the family to Bootham, the Quaker boarding school, leaving to work for the Evening Press in York for a short time before war broke out.

A conscientious objector during the war, like his brother Michael, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit which his father, Arnold, had helped set up in the previous war, and was influential in re-establishing it. Richard taught people how to drive lorries and spent time in Egypt, Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria. He did a great deal of work with refugees and ran the Distressed Persons Scheme which brought people to this country to join relatives.

Back in England, Richard spent a year at St Catherine’s College in Windsor, run by Sir Walter Moberly, an influential educator of the period. As a result of his experience he was very involved in setting up the Educational Interchange Council which over the years has arranged exchange visits for thousands of teachers, students and children from Europe to this country.

Richard was also a businessman, setting up a very successful small company running self-service launderettes. It was an opening he chose not only for its commercial potential but because it was socially useful. In 1960 he married Mary Harper and they settled at Kingthorpe in Pickering, bringing up a family of four girls.

Richard worked closely with his fellow JRRT Director, Richard Wainwright, in the removal of Jeremy Thorpe as Liberal leader. Besides his involvement in politics, Richard was active in other ways in the local community. He was a JP for twenty-two years, and chaired the Ryedale and Malton Joint Domestic Panel. He was also a member of the North Yorkshire Probation Committee. Railways were Richard’s other great interest from childhood, and he became a founder member of the North Yorks Moors Historic Railway Trust, and a key figure in the formation of the Railway Enterprise Company.

As a director of the Reform Trust, and in his role on Quaker national committees, Richard was a strong advocate of ethical investing. He had a natural talent for combining principles with practicality.

Throughout his life, Richard was impressively energetic and engaged in the world around him, being a great writer of letters to national papers and the Quaker journal, The Friend. In his last letter to The Friend he expressed his hopes for the future of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland calling on churches, “to make friendship our centre and thus find freedom.”

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