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‘Unrivalled’ Lib Dem activist Philip Vince remembered

PUBLISHED: 16:29 25 February 2015

Philip Vince

Philip Vince

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If you have been a member of the Liberal Democrats, at any level, then the likelihood is you will have met Philip Vince or maybe you will have had a handwritten note from Philip in immaculate spider-small handwriting.

For someone who never stood for public office his impact and commitment were unrivalled.

The Liberal Democrat activist, who lived in Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, and enjoyed a lifelong career at technology company IBM, passed away on February 4, aged 81.

He was born in 1933, attended Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham, and joined local South Buckinghamshire Liberal Association in 1949.

At the age of 16 he found himself elected as treasurer. It was only later he confessed that he was the only person under 50 and indeed the only person who agreed to do the role.

Philip started at Cambridge University in 1953 having been admitted to Pembroke College where he read Mathematical Tripos. He graduated with a BA in 1955 and an MA in 1960.

National Service followed university and he entered the RAF as an officer.

As National Service ended, Philip picked up his politics again and is thought to have attended his first Liberal Assembly in 1959. He is thought to have attended every Liberal Assembly and subsequent Liberal Democrat conference since that date.

In Camden’s Liberal and Liberal Democrat story Philip was a constant presence – Cllr Flick Rea remembers that Philip was there at the first meeting she attended in 1975.

Philip was to be the agent for hundreds of Liberal and Liberal Democrat local election candidates right up to 2010.

Indeed, the Camden election office staff remember Philip correcting the numbers, electoral register, notifying them of changes, deaths, people who had moved and being ever-on-the-ball.

It often brought up the question as to whether Philip was himself more effective than a computer.

His own financial generosity to the local party is reflected in the fact that the stuffing machine in the current constituency office is named after him.

But despite this strong, impressive and highly political pedigree, Philip maintained a busy and wide-ranging social life.

He never cooked for himself at home – just a minimal breakfast, but otherwise ate out usually and often at the same places, apparently eating the same dishes.

Philip’s brother Geoffrey was an accomplished pianist and Philip himself was a great lover of the opera. When his friend Janet Grauberg confessed she didn’t get on with opera Philip quipped, “We all have our faults”.

For over 23 years, Philip was a supporter of the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland. He was unable to attend after 2012 but continued, in his typical style, to be a very generous supporter.

His love of astronomy had been developed by an early telescope in his parents’ garden, indeed his father had been the treasurer of the British Astronomical Association.

A liberal in his politics but also in his life, he joined the Hampstead Humanists in 1965 and was a member ever since.

His commitment to his community meant he had been a long-standing member of Belsize Residents Association; there was also the National Trust, the United Nations Association, the Citizen’s Income Trust and the Camden Rating Tribunal.

Indeed in many organisations that Philip chose to join he often ended up as treasurer, membership secretary or auditor.

When I first became involved in Camden politics Philip was the source of much advice – sitting in his flat in Eton Avenue in one of the old, faded, sunken chairs, we talked a lot.

Philip filling me in on how things worked, me suggesting what he clearly thought were flamboyant ideas. But he listened and responded to those ideas that he considered had any merit. He was a wise counsel and a good reliable source of advice.


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