Jim Cogan: Teacher and charity founder

James Atcheson Cogan, schoolteacher and charity worker: born Liverpool 15 May 1937; staff, Westminster School 1964-99; Founder and Director, Students' Partnership Worldwide 1985-2003, honorary president 2003-07; OBE 2003; married 1966 Jenny Douglas (two sons, two daughters); died London 27 September 2007

In 1981, at the Election Dinner of Westminster School, Enoch Powell had been amongst those giving their erudite and witty verses in ancient languages, and after the main event people milled around outside in the fine summer weather. There was Jim Cogan, a trenchant presence in the flowing crimson regalia of his post as Master of the Queen's Scholars and Under Master, inveighing exasperatedly against the system of which he was so much a part. He was appalled by the contrast between this exotic symbol of a certain sort of civilisation and the fires burning across the river in Brixton, less than two miles away, in the terrible race riots.

Cogan was well aware of the unease that accompanied the deep pleasure he had in his job as English teacher in this privileged setting. The charitable projects in which he was involved in Africa and Asia came from a wish to give more widely. He felt strongly, too, that young westerners would benefit hugely by living among people with little of material worth, but a great deal, often, of human generosity. These convictions lay behind his founding of Students' Partnership Worldwide (SPW) in 1985.

SPW started as an opportunity for gap-year students to work in the developing world, with occasional return visits by teachers to schools in UK. Now it focuses more on HIV/ Aids education, the environment and youth leadership, most of the volunteers coming from the eight countries in Africa and Asia in which the work is done. Cogan worked energetically for the organisation for 18 years as its Director, all without any pay.

Jim Cogan would go out of his way for people. His generosity spread from personal initiatives to larger scale attempts to help people. Two of his ventures in Africa are ongoing. One the Good Earth Trust uses compressed earth, with small infusions of cement, to make ingenious bricks (which require no fire, and therefore no consumption of valuable wood), cleverly interlocked to make domestic and larger-scale water tanks for conserving rainwater.

The second project Alive and Kicking involves factories in Kenya and more recently in Zambia to make footballs. African adults and children often cannot afford modern-style footballs, which are imported, cost 20 each, and wear out quickly. Cogan's footballs are made of leather, withstand the roughest terrain, can be repaired and reinflated, create work for the unemployed, make use of the skins of dead cows, and cost less than 5 each. One hundred thousand have been bought by Uefa for free distribution in African schools.

Born in 1937, Jim Cogan did National Service in Nigeria with the West African Frontier Force. After Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he read Greats, before changing to English, he worked briefly at Rugby School, then Jamaica for a year, and loved these contacts with ordinary people in the countryside, as indeed he had on summer holidays in Ireland with his farming relatives, helping with the harvest.

From 1964 until 1999, he taught English at Westminster School. He loved Shakespeare and had a deep storehouse of English poetry off by heart. He argued that one source of Shakespeare's genius was his living at a time when the oral rustic tradition was still in full vigour, but in creative juxtaposition to a rapidly expanding literary world. One of Cogan's plans or hopes for his old age was to write a book on Shakespeare, with special reference to the unconscious and to nature.

Jim Cogan was totally unpompous. He was a wonderful teacher of literature, informal, unconventional and challenging. He was always personally stimulating; and also humorous, provocative and debunking. When bored and he was a restless man, easily frustrated if he felt nothing of importance was being risked he would feel impelled to make something happen, sometimes by creating an intense argument, sometimes by causing embarrassment.

Jim was married for 41 years to Jenny Douglas, whom he had met when he was head boy of Liverpool College and she was at the sister school, Huyton College. Jim was an excellent sportsman, and loved sailing and walking. He seemed much younger than his age, and full of life. He died suddenly, over London, on a plane bringing him back from a work trip in Africa.

Michael Brearley

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency is looking ...

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has been manufacturing high quali...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the fairest onl...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen