Life remembered: Paul Zimmermann


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Paul Zimmermann was a musician, magistrate and civil servant, with a larger-than-life personality and a physique to match. He relished life and lived it to the full, despite many years of uncertain health.

He was born in South London, his mother a teacher of children with special needs, his father a press photographer. Paul's love of music and liturgy was nurtured at St Philip's church, Kennington Road, since demolished. He played french horn at his school, Westminster City, and in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, and also studied as a Junior Exhibitioner at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He had intended to read divinity at Durham University, but a wise priest told him to take a year out. So he took a holiday job at Lambeth County Court, and then went into the Civil Service for the next 40 years. He also sang at Southwark Cathedral; when not at work or singing he was reading, conducting or being convivial over a pint.

In his professional life, he went through computing (in the Lord Chancellor's Department), liaison work, legislation (the important Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002), service as private secretary to ministers in both Houses of Parliament (Baroness Scotland and David Lammy, MP), and finally he was joint secretary to the Speaker's Conference on parliamentary representation.

Former colleagues from the Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Justice (where he was head of the domestic human rights unit) recalled Paul's succinct formula for entitlement to rights in the UK: "Being human and being here", which appeared in one of the many speeches he drafted for ministers, and was probably ascribed to a minister, as Zimmermann would have wished, professionally.

He served as a Justice of the Peace for 20 years and is remembered by a fellow magistrate as "a master at keeping the court in order. He would use the depths of his voice to bring order, and even the most deviant would stand to attention". He was sitting at Westminster Magistrates' Court just the day before he died, suddenly, at his home in Dulwich.

He retired early from the Civil Service owing to ill health, but went on supporting the arts, booksellers and brewers, and finally got around to taking his degree in music in 2010, through the Open University. Another friend wrote: "Rarely does one meet a man whose thirst for knowledge has been so comprehensively quenched, a man with a talent for conversing on any topic."

As a young tenor he was once engaged to play the adult narrator in a school performance of Michael Hurd's Hip, Hip, Horatio, the story of Lord Nelson.

The director of music at the school later recalled that "I had primed the children all to expect a rather large man with an operatic kind of voice, but I hadn't anticipated that Paul would arrive in full evening dress complete with a stuffed parrot sewn on to his shoulder, which remained throughout the dress rehearsal and the entire concert. 'Just entering into the spirit' was his reasoning. The kids loved him for it."

In 1987 he married Sally-Anne Spencer and they formed an eccentric but devoted partnership.

Garry Humphreys

Paul Zimmermann, musician, magistrate and civil servant: born London 26 April 1952; married 1987 Sally-Anne Spencer; died London 13 September 2012.