Michael Rowntree

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Michael Rowntree (16 February 1919 – 23 September 2007) was a British journalist, and social campaigner who was a co-founder and later Chairman of Oxfam for between 1971 and 1977, as well as Chairman emiritus from 1991.

Early life[edit]

Rowntree was the scion of two distinguished Quaker families the Rowntrees and the Harveys, his wife Anna was a member of another prominent Quaker family, the Crosfields.

He was the son of Arnold Rowntree and a nephew of Chocolatier and social-reformer Joseph Rowntree.Educated at Earnseat School in Arnside and Bootham School, the Quaker school in York, where he became head boy, he read PPE at Queen's College, Oxford for two years, but the Second World War intervened. A conscientious objector, he helped Paul Cadbury and Michael Barratt Brown to re-establish the Friends Ambulance Unit holding many leadership positions in this "very democratic"organization.[1] He worked in Finland in 1940, then in Cairo, and became his FAU unit's leader in North Africa and then into Italy. Later he co-ordinated the work of all FAU units in Germany.

Professional Life[edit]

Returning to Britain, his first post-war job was as a journalist at the Northern Echo in Darlington, ahe then moved to Oxford in 1950 to become assistant general manager at the Oxford Mail and the Oxford Times where he was promoted one year later to general manager. During his tenure he increased circulation and guided the newspapers through one of their most challenging and successful periods.[2] He resigned in 1967 to concentrate on his other responsibilities, although he remained a director.[3]

He also served as director of the Friends Provident and Century Life insurance company from 1956 to 1973, and of the Friends Provident Life Office from 1973 to 1975. He resigned from both boards due to his disagreements with management over their increasingly profit-oriented approach, as this conflicted with his strong views on social justice and business ethics.[4]

He chaired the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, a non-charitable grant-making trust, as well as the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust which, amongst many other things, supports charities working for racial justice in the UK. During the apartheid years, the Trust supported organizations working for human rights in South Africa. In addition, Mr. Rowntree was vice chair of the Oxfordshire Area Health Authority; chaired Quaker Peace and Service, and was a trustee of the weekly Quaker magazine, The Friend.[5]


Mr. Rowntree worked with Oxfam for 60 years, beginning in 1947. He became a committee member in 1951 and a trustee in 1952, and was chairman from 1971 to 1977. He became Chair Emeritus in 1991, one of only two honoured with that position. Rowntree had an excellent capacity for detailed examination of selected issues combined with general humanitarian concern and during his Chairmanship he worked tirelessly to encourage local initiative, above all in agriculture. He was also well ahead of his time in both recommending recycling and warning of the undoubted effects of climate change in African famines.

Personal life[edit]

He enjoyed walking in the North York Moors, and was a keen birdwatcher. He retired to Yorkshire in 1981. He was survived by his wife, Anna Crosfield, a textiles artist, their two daughters and a son.


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