Obituary: Alec Dickson

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The Independent Online
Alexander Graeme Dickson, administrator, writer: born 23 May 1914; MBE 1945, CBE 1967; Founder and Director, Voluntary Service Overseas 1958-62; Hon Director, Community Service Volunteers 1962-82, President 1982-94; married 1951 Mora Robertson; died London 23 September 1994.

FORMAL EDUCATION can be a long tunnel. You work hard but the initiative is rarely yours, writes Mark Goyder. Emerging from that tunnel I was lucky enough to stumble on an organisation willing to throw real-life responsibility at me. As a Community Service Volunteer I found responsibility, and self-confidence in helping others, and am one of thousands who have its inspiring founders, Alec and Mora Dickson, to thank for finding direction at that awkward stage in growing up.

Alec Dickson knew how to find the action. He talked of service, and of responsibilities not rights. He saw straight through the cracks in professional care. He matched people who needed to give with need that had to be met. He made community service part of the curriculum for police cadets, borstal boys, undergraduates, secondary school, even civil servants.

In 1970 I was yet another 17- year-old in the CSV waiting-room. CSV rejected nobody. A few weeks later I was installed as a 'catalyst' linking eager Shropshire sixth formers with isolated pensioners. We had to bring copies of our local newspapers on the training course. Dickson would pick a story and illuminate the potential. Waste ground, flooding, complaints about 'nothing to do around here', news of ethnic minorities, the local factory in disgrace . . . were all opportunities to make a difference. He taught me never to be held up by 'lack of resources': some people think scarcity and some think abundance. Alec Dickson was Mr Abundance.

In 1973 he spoke at the Cambridge Union. He warned that discharging mental patients into the community would be disastrous unless we all mobilised a new kind of caring. He went on:

I crave to see a new mobility, and a new nobility, too. For example, when one encounters cleansing of toilets at Heathrow and King's Cross being assigned to a new helot class of Asian women, should we not recognise that democracy is not just about going to the polls every five years or sharing decision making processes, it is also about sharing the pain.

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