ANTHONY RAMPTON was a successful businessman, a gifted photographer and painter, a much- loved philanthropist whose charitable work extended well beyond the British Isles, the author of an influential report on the education of children from ethnic minorities, and a man with a wide range of intellectual interests.
Tony Rampton was born into a relatively wealthy Methodist family. His grandfather had set up Freemans, a mail-order company based in Brixton, south London, in 1906. Tony went to Harrow and then to Queen's College, Oxford, where he read law. He would, like his son Richard, have made an excellent barrister. But the war intervened and Tony volunteered for the army. He joined the Royal Berkshires and was in India from 1944 to 1946 where he performed the remarkable feat of taking a convoy all the way from the south to the north of the country. After the war he returned to Britain as a major and joined the family firm. This was not the kind of thing Oxford-educated men did in those days, and he did need some forceful persuading.
Rampton was a remarkably successful businessman. He computerised the firm, expanded its range of services, built an enormous warehouse at Peterborough, increased the turnover, and made considerable money. When Freemans went public in 1963, its shares fetched unexpectedly high prices. Rampton and his wife, Joan, who shared his ideals, were embarrassed by this new wealth and felt worried lest it should unsettle their way of life and corrupt their children. In a remarkable act of wisdom and self-abnegation, they used it to set up several trusts, including the Hilden. The Hilden Trust now has a capital of around pounds 8m and disperses nearly pounds 500,000 a year for charitable causes and worthy projects, including some outside Britain.
In addition to his charitable work through the Hilden Trust, Rampton was directly involved in a number of worthwhile causes, including local church and youth clubs in south London. He was closely connected with the Lambeth Community Trust and its work for the homeless, and was active in the Lambeth Community Relations Council, where he was a source of much sound advice to many an activist. He devoted a lot of his time and energy to the adoption of children and the Standing Conference for Societies Registered for Adoption which he and Joan set up. He was appointed OBE for his work in this area. Despite some resistance, he made sure that his own firm employed a large number of black people. He helped set up the Runnymede Trust, a forum for research into race relations, and for nearly two decades gave it generous financial assistance.
In 1979 he was appointed as chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups set up by the Secretary of State for Education. This was an extremely difficult and delicate assignment, especially as there was no educational consensus on why Afro-Caribbean children performed so badly in public examinations. Rampton wisely guided the deliberations of the committee, made sure that it stayed clear of superficial explanations and political polemics, and held together a multiracial body with strong views and passions. The interim report of the committee blamed, among other things, low teacher expectations and the racial prejudices of both white teachers and society at large. It required considerable courage at the time to say this simple truth.
Not surprisingly the media tried to discredit the report even before its publication and the minister in charge of education sacked Rampton. He was deeply pained, not so much by the sacking as by the way inconvenient views were suppressed, but was never bitter and even urged some of us to stay on the committee in the larger interest of the community. Lord Swann, who succeeded Rampton, produced a report in 1984 which broadly repeated its conclusions, and they are now part of conventional wisdom. Rampton received no official recognition for his work, but earned the abiding gratitude of millions of ordinary black and white men and women and a large number of educationalists.
In spite of a stroke late in life, Rampton enjoyed good health. He was taken ill last month and rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties. A day before his death he became very ill and asked Joan if the end was near. When she said yes, he asked his doctor son David to take him through what he was likely to experience. He accepted the news of impending death with enormous dignity and courage, speaking separately to each of his four children and his grandchildren, and telling Joan how lucky they had been to have led such fulfilling lives.