A photo a day – In Memoriam of Jim Mansell

Jim was my older brother. He died two years ago today from Cancer. He left behind his wife, Stephanie and his three children Jenny, Harry and Tom. I remember Jim today.


This photo made me think about the work of portrait photographers and one in particular – Gary Schneider. His work is interesting because he has created several series of portraits and when he began the eyes  really connected with the viewer – see here: (link), but as he progressed the eyes have become more glazed and less telling (link).

This was Jim’s eulogy.

Jim’s work identity was big. But there were other facets to Jim and I want to share some of these with you all. Jim was a son, a brother, a husband, a dad, a granddad and uncle to his family.

Mum and Dad told me that as a toddler Jim often rode on the back of his Dad’s pushbike; Dad would cycle with him from Bromley Police station all the way to our home on Chulsa Estate with mum following on the bus. Jim loved it.

They also explained how from an early age Jim always had his head in a book. Even at his birthday parties he would prefer to be upstairs reading rather than downstairs playing games with the other kids. And at school the punishment for forgetting his sports kit was working in the library; a pleasure for him.

It was clear to Jim’s teachers at primary school that he was bright and they suggested he try for a scholarship at Dulwich College. But Dulwich was a sports focussed school and Jim wasn’t – so in the interview, when the headmaster asked Jim what he liked to do in his spare time Jim replied that he liked to fight in gangs on the estate. Needless to say he did not get a place there.

At secondary school, he showed his compassion and interest in others by becoming a member of the local Gateway club. Then he left home – winning his place at Cardiff University – something mum and dad were so proud of as he had worked so hard for it. Little did they realise just how far going to University would take him.

Jim always found time for mum and dad. It might be helping mum to sort out a computer problem over the phone, or just popping in to see them when travelling through London. But also when things got serious, such as the time that dad had a life threatening operation, Jim was with them.

Then there’s Jim the brother to Steve and me. Steve was telling me how he remembers Saturday mornings, in our beds, waiting for the paperboy to deliver “The Beezer” for Steve “The Topper” for me, and “look and Learn” for Jim; and how he remembers the smell of formaldehyde in Jim’s bedroom from his biology homework, and how that compared to the smell of cigarette smoke emanating from our bedroom!

The assumption of leadership came to Jim early, as when small boys on holiday in the early 1960s dad said we could all buy hats from the seaside stall – Steve and I chose American Union soldiers’ kepis while Jim chose an officer’s hat.

But Steve went on to say how Jim shared an interest in all we did, and always had time to listen. Indeed Steve and Jim shared a lifelong passion for aviation – in fact Jim originally wanted to be a pilot and even took lessons and got his flying licence. In everything Jim did, he did with conviction. Nothing was half hearted.

Behind every great man, there is a great woman, and in Jim’s case this was his wife, Stephanie. Steph, was a calm strong, intelligent partner who not only supported Jim in raising their children, while enabling him to carry out the work he has been so highly praised for, but she did all this whilst maintaining her own career as a midwife.

Jim and Steph, met in 1975 at the same university, he was in his final year and she in her first. Noticing Steph across the lunch hall, Jim wrote her a note addressed to ‘the BN with the bright eyes’ asking her out. She accepted despite being warned that Jim was a dangerous Marxist by the Christian Union and the rest is history.

Jim occasionally drove Steph to distraction as domestic details would escape his notice. On more than one occasion when asked to pick up the children from Scouts she would receive a call that he’d not turned up, only to find he was sat outside the ballet school planning the next research paper.

They were together for 37 years and over that time developed a strong partnership based on love, a deep understanding of one another, and a friendship which carried them through the challenges of a long marriage, parenthood, ill health and two successful careers.

As a father Jim’s children remember, not just the man of great principle, but a creative, funny and kind dad. Jim used to take the children on walks in Blean Woods where he would make bows and arrows out of branches, a bit of string and his trusty penknife. Jenny, Harry and Tom would then be on the prowl, armed and ready for any Red Indians that hid in the woods.

You only have to take a stroll in the garden of number 13 Cherry Avenue and you will notice the tree house in the apple tree, which Jim built himself. It was a labour of love, particularly as he used the wrong sized nails on the rungs of the ladder and on climbing it for the first time came tumbling down!

Jim could always be relied on for good advice, even if his children didn’t always take it (particularly during the teenage years). And despite being a man for whom no room to put a plate on a kitchen surface constituted a crisis, he always remained calm and clear headed when it came to the big things in life. Indeed his guidance helped his children through the maze of tricky decisions that come with growing up, and was coupled with a vast knowledge of everything from archaeology to zoology. Harry once said, “I want to know everything that Dad knows”.

Jim was immensely proud of his children and they brought him great delight. He watched Jenny follow in his footsteps in a career founded on bettering the lives of others as she began her own career in legal aid. He took great satisfaction in the fact that Jenny was not one of life’s passengers – but a proactive person who aimed to give, rather than receive.

Never the sportsman Jim was amazed by Harry’s sporting prowess and spent many hours driving him to and from cricket matches. He saw a lot of himself in Harry – strong willed, sometimes stubborn – but with firm convictions. And Jim loved spending time with Tom in the garden, sharing their love of horticulture. They cooked up and executed many great schemes and building projects together that allowed them to hire exciting machinery such as diggers. Indeed Jim was the only man in the street who owned a cement mixer.

Jim believed that Tom’s getting together with Louise, and bringing baby Ella into the world, was the making of him that turned Tom into a hard-working, diligent, attentive partner and father. Jim thought that in Louise Tom had found a smart, determined and able partner in life’s journey.

And as a grandfather, Ella brought Jim great joy. Jim would sit in his study while Ella, in the kitchen, would lean back to wave to Granddad from her high chair.

The loss of Uncle Jim has hit his nieces and nephews hard but I know that they all looked up to him. He had a place in his heart for everyone. And we all have loads of photos and videos of our family get-togethers

The Mansell family shared with Jim a rather dry sense of humour and this came to the fore over these last months as first dad was in hospital, then I was, and then Jim began his last journey. Yet the emails we sent each other were never downbeat but were chock full of witticisms. Jim faced his illness with courage and fortitude – he never turned his face to the wall. He would always talk honestly – indeed matter of factly – about difficult issues right up to the end.

So we are remembering a wonderful life; an industrious life yes, but also a life of now cherished memories of a boy and man who played an important role in all of our lives. We all love and miss you Jim.

Spoken to the congregation at Jims funeral on March 26th 2012 at Barham Near Canterbury, Kent


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in A Photo a Day and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A photo a day – In Memoriam of Jim Mansell

  1. paul490280 says:

    Very poignant. Hope you start to feel better soon.


  2. That’s quite some portrait image, Pete, even without the words.


  3. Tanya says:

    What a loving tribute, the photo and the words. Thank you for sharing your brother’s life with us.


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