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Obituary: James Roberts, 83 - senior education officer’s work on exchange visits benefited thousands

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A senior education officer whose work on exchange visits led thousands of Cambridgeshire people to new experiences and lifelong friendships, has died.

James Roberts - known as Jim - who was described as a friendly, enthusiastic man, initiated twinning relationships in many countries. He died in Cambridge at the age of 83.

James Roberts died at the age of 83
James Roberts died at the age of 83

Jim, a proud Yorkshireman from Huddersfield, was 32 when he took up a post of organiser of further education and youth service for Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.

He and his family moved to Cambridge and his three children, Antony, Linda and David, went to local schools.

Jim was deeply influenced by the work of Henry Morris, the founder of Cambridgeshire’s village college schooling system, and the philosophy of providing “education from the cradle to the grave” by making schools community hubs open to all.

In an earlier role as a youth service field officer in the East Riding of Yorkshire, he had seen the valuable impact of twinning Beverley with Lemgo in Germany.

When he saw an announcement in the Times Educational Supplement from Kreis Kempen-Krefeld - later Kreis Viersen - seeking a twinning partner, he saw the opportunity to expand Morris’ vision.

He started encouraging groups from all walks of life to exchange visits and over the following years several thousand people took part in the various programs.

The Hageau Promenade in Viersen, Germany (49369514)
The Hageau Promenade in Viersen, Germany (49369514)

In 1983 Cambridgeshire and Kreis Viersen were officially twinned; the following year he was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit, the German equivalent of the MBE. His counterpart in Kreis Viersen, Martha Kaiser, was awarded the MBE at the same time.

During his work in Cambridgeshire, he also built relationships with other organisations, cities and regions in France, the USA, Canada and Tunisia, fostering international understanding and providing many people of different ages with life-changing experiences.

Over 18 years, his responsibilities and territories grew and after he retired in 1987 as senior county community education officer for Cambridgeshire - by now including Peterborough and Huntingdonshire - he returned to his much-loved Huddersfield.

Though he studied and taught chemistry, his true passion was history, whether the exploits of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Romans, or family history, which he meticulously researched and recorded.

His other passion was sport, whether playing cricket for the Cambridgeshire Education Department XI, or golf in his later years, or following football with Huddersfield Town and adopted East Fife.

After his wife died in 2013, Jim spent his latter years in Cambridge with Bettie Sweet. Together, they travelled and pursued his love of military history.

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