Joe Mitty

Tireless worker for Oxfam
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The Independent Online

Joseph Sidney Mitty, charity worker: born London 7 May 1919; MBE 2000; married 1941 Dorothy White (two sons, and one daughter deceased); died Oxford 30 September 2007.

In the 1950s, in a shop in Great Missenden, a village 15 miles outside Oxford, Joe Mitty, an Oxfam employee, held a regular "surgery". Here, locals were invited to drop by to donate goods, and as closing time neared one day, a woman came in to tell Mitty that her gift was "tied to a lamppost" outside. Mitty thanked her for her generous donation and managed to sell the donkey within the hour.

His response was typical of the charm and efficiency with which Mitty, Oxfam's first full-time paid employee, went about his business. His motto was "if you donate it, we can sell it" and other examples of his business nous included his reaction when one woman approached him to say that "if he could remove the diamond ring from her finger he could keep it"; Mitty dashed upstairs for soap. The ring fetched £75. He also once sold a houseboat to students from Balliol College, Oxford, for £300.

Mitty was born in 1919 in Islington, north London, and left school at 16. His father worked at the Woolwich Arsenal, but died when he was 12, so he was brought up by his strict mother, a Salvation Army member. After school, Joe Mitty went to Pitman's College to study as an administrator, and then joined the Army, selected for officer training at Sandhurst. It was while he was stationed in India and Burma in 1942 that he witnessed the intense poverty that inspired his later outlook.

After demob, he was working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production when he spotted a job advert in the Oxford Mail for a position with the Oxford Famine Relief Committee (Oxfam) in 1949. Mitty's innovation was to realise that high-value donations received by Oxfam could be sold, and he turned their premises on Broad Street, Oxford, from a depot where clothes were collected to be sent to the needy in post-war Europe, into a professional shop. His idea helped increase Oxfam's annual revenue from £500 in 1948 to £1,500 the following year, £10,000 by 1953 and £1m by 1971. Oxfam shops have since raised more than half a billion pounds.

Mitty officially retired in 1982. He continued to visit the organisation's shops around the country to inspire their employees – his litany of stories being an ever-popular draw. Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's director, says that "Joe changed the world forever, and for the better. He described himself as a little old man but he was truly a giant among men."

Last year Tony Blair presented Mitty, one of Britain's most tireless charity workers, with a Pride of Britain award for lifetime achievement. Even on this occasion, Mitty urged his son Roger to circulate with a notebook collecting autographs, which he hoped could be sold off for the charity at a later date.

Rob Sharp

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