Obituary: David Mitchell-Baker MBE, 1932-2015
David was born, in what was then Rhodesia, in 1932 and lived there through his childhood and most of his school years until, six months before he was due to leave school, his parents moved to Tanzania. Despite the disruption to his schooling, he was determined to persevere with his education and go on to tertiary education.
David’s liberal views were considerably at odds with the prevailing climate in Southern Africa in the 1950s and in 1955 he moved to the UK to pursue his goal of qualifying as an engineer. Although his parents were both South African, his Scottish heritage, through his grandparents, qualified him for a British passport and his move to the UK took him to an engineering course at Brighton Technical College. Kingston College had also been under consideration but David rationalized that, being further south, Brighton would be the warmer of the two places. History does not record whether David continued to hold that view of the Sussex climate.
He stayed at the YWCA in Brighton, where he became friends with a young man who invited David to his family home in Oxford and there introduced him to his sister, Jennifer Knowles. The rest, as they say, is history. David and Jenny were married in 1961. They were married for 54 years and their three children and eight grandchildren form a close-knit family and are a source of great strength one to the other.
For the first 3 years of their marriage David and Jenny lived in Jamaica, followed by stints in Libya and Ghana. They settled in Ashtead in 1974 but David’s work continued to take him far afield to Indonesia and Sri Lanka on Project Management of water treatment plants, David’s particular area of interest and expertise.
Never one to sit idle while people needed his active interest, when at home in Ashtead David became involved with many charitable causes. He was a founder member of Rotary when the organization began to have a presence in the UK and he was one of the team that thought up and organized the very first Ashtead Village Day. The second Saturday in June is now an established part of Ashtead life and it raises thousands for charity in true Rotarian fashion.
In 1995, David learned that a dementia care club based at the Fairfield Centre in Leatherhead would have to close. The Alzheimer’s Society was unable to continue running it as its rules stated that it could not continue to own buildings. David decided to take over the running of the club and, working with Merrick Kidd, he raised the funds to keep it going. Thus was born the Mid Surrey Dementia Care Trust, which is familiarly known as the Conservatory Club, located as it is in a conservatory adjacent to the Fairfield Centre. The Conservatory Club, which helps people with memory difficulties retain their communication and social skills, was very close to David’s heart and he remained Chairman of Trustees until shortly before his death.
In 2004, working with Christine Kerton, he helped to set up Ashtead Good Neighbours and was its first chairman. The organization relies on volunteers who carry out neighbourly tasks for those needing a helping hand. Volunteers mostly provide transport to medical appointments but they also perform simple DIY jobs and help with the shopping.
More recently, David was key to the setting up of the Patient Participation Group at St Stephen’s House surgery and became its first chairman.
David was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 but continued with his charity work throughout his illness. He only allowed himself to relinquish it little by little as his illness worsened in the last two years, when the cancer had spread into his bones.
David will be remembered as a man who made very many good things happen and in 2011, his contribution to the life of our community was recognized when was awarded the MBE for his charitable work in the area.
He was widely known, respected and loved by very many people in Ashtead and Ashtead Residents’ Association was deeply honoured that he was our President for the past 14 years. He will be greatly missed by us all.