Obituary: Jaquetta James

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Older residents on Mull may be saddened to hear of the passing, in her 91st year, of Jaquetta James, formerly of Torosay Castle.

On the plaque in the Craignure Village Hall, which she officially opened in December 1999, she is identified as The Hon Mrs James, and she liked this formal style of address, as she felt it honoured the memory of her father, the 11th Lord Digby KG, a much-decorated veteran of the Great War and Dorset landowner.

The youngest of four children, her formative years were in the austere 1940s, and she saw less of the glamorous lifestyle that her older sisters knew well. Indeed, she found the contrasts drawn with her oldest sister Pamela (who, as Pamela Churchill Harriman, was President Bill Clinton’s ambassador in Paris) all rather tiresome, because, as she used to say, she would never have aspired to that kind of lifestyle. Instead, she had ambitions for a career in medicine, but these were frustrated by a skull fracture incurred in a riding accident, and by polio, which left her permanently, if mildly, incapacitated.

Like many of her generation, she developed in her youth a strong sense of duty, which remained with her all her life.

She was married in 1950 to David James, a PoW escapee and polar adventurer who had been raised on Mull, and with him had a family of six children.

While he developed a career in politics, she found time to serve on mental health tribunals, and on the management board of Chailey Heritage, a school which serves the needs of children with complex physical disabilities, including the many Thalidomide children of that era.

Her greatest commitment at this time was to Hamilton Lodge, a school for the profoundly deaf, where, as chairman, she oversaw its transition from the creation of a maverick and inspirational founder to the professional management standards of the 1970s.

As an MP’s wife between 1959 and 1964, and again between 1970 and 1979, she was heavily committed to, and enjoyed the challenge of, the pastoral side of constituency work. A natural ‘small C’ conservative, she nevertheless had no time for the partisanship of party politics, being happy to point out that one of her maternal great-grandfathers had been a Liberal Home Secretary and recalling recently how she became friends with Christina Stewart, the wife of the then solitary SNP MP between 1970 and 1973, who may have had a lonely life in London in the days before generous family travel passes.

After politics, she and David moved back to Mull to try to restore his beloved Torosay Castle and open it to the public. Sadly soon widowed, her commitment continued undiminished, and for more than 25 years she would turn her hand to any task where she could be of use. The gardeners will attest that she was always by far the most knowledgeable member of the family in their department!

When Torosay was put up for sale a decade ago, she chose to move back to her roots in Dorset, in part to be near her brother, to whom she was devoted, and who himself died within the past year.

She died in her own home cared for by two of her children after an illness which she handled with great stoicism and remarkable cheerfulness. During this time, her Catholic faith – she was received into the church at the time of her marriage, David having become a Catholic in PoW camp – was a source of great comfort and strength to her.

Jaquetta is survived by six children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.