I haven’t put my fingers to computer keys to write a blog post for a very long time but the death of my dear friend James Partridge has persuaded me to write so that I can share some memories of him.
I think he would appreciate my efforts as he knew how difficult I find the act of writing. He always said in his typically encouraging way “Come on Mr Friend you can do this”.
So here goes.
What an extraordinary human being James Partridge was, he lit up every room he entered. Often arriving at meetings wearing bicycle clips, crash helmet slightly akimbo, breathless, sweaty but always smiling.
Once out of his cycling gear, he offered a big powerful handshake which was always accompanied by a brilliant smile and then the inevitable booming laugh. James Partridge is in the building and ready for the fray.
He was an unforgettable human being and strangely it wasn’t his “memorable” appearance but rather the huge presence that made him stand out
I watched him once climb onto a stage in front of an audience of business leaders to make a speech. Nothing unusual in that, James did it regularly and was good at it. On this occasion somewhat unusually he was clutching a three-legged milking stool. James had once been a farmer, he used the milking stool as a visual aid to explain that disability rights in employment could only be achieved in a corporate environment if three things were in place. An understanding that it was the right thing to do, that it made good business sense and finally the law required it. Just like the milking stool if one of the “legs” was missing then it was useless. He had captured the audience’s attention and throughout his career, people listened and then went off to change things for the better.
He was always so full of energy and ideas and was very creative and extraordinarily persuasive.
On one occasion when we were talking together we acknowledged that the only way we were going to see improvements in the employment of disabled people was when the most senior business leaders saw it as important and made it a higher priority. (God bless cleaners and catering staff but they aren’t responsible for strategy or business planning). James went on to suggest that the most senior people never went on training courses of the type we ran. They were either too busy or didn’t see the relevance. However, said James they do attend lots of very nice dinners! The Dining with a Difference (DWD) concept was born.
Dining with a Difference encouraged very senior corporate individuals to sit around dinner tables to eat wonderful food and discuss how they were going to change things for disabled people within their organisations.
The original Dining Team featured James and me plus Stephen Lloyd and Simon Minty. (Later we were joined by Alice Maynard and Kate Nash). We each hosted a table and using a carefully structured and preprepared programme we gently encouraged the diners to share their experiences of disability. As people relaxed, the wine helped, we moved on to action planning which examined how they were going to improve things within their organisations. The dinners were a huge success and at their peak, we were running one a month
What was so especially clever about the Dining idea, aside from the fact that it really did lead to change, was that we visited some of the finest hotels and restaurants, we were able to network with some of the most influential business leaders and the icing on the cake, we got paid for doing it! Well done James P!
James Partridge really was a one-off. He cared deeply for other people particularly those who were managing facial difference. He was a true friend, a great ally and a lovely man and I and many others will miss him.
Footnote: In June 2020 Simon Minty and I had the very great pleasure of chatting to James and recorded it for our podcast. Take a listen, James Partridge