David Kohler obituary

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Words inherited from his mother – “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” – encapsulate the ethics of my father, David Kohler, who has died aged 79.

David worked for two commercial research agencies, RBL, Unilever’s in-house agency, in London (1965-72) and Millward Brown in Leamington Spa (1977-90). He helped develop the latter’s expanding client base, and had become a partner by the time it was acquired by the multinational company WPP.

In between, David was principal reference officer for the Community Relations Commission, where he was responsible for studies investigating inequality among ethnic minority communities, a revolutionary analysis of the importance of the “New Commonwealth” vote and reports such as Some of my Best Friends … A Report on Race Relations Attitudes (1976).

During the passage of the Race Relations Act (1976), the CRC proposed a clause giving local authorities a duty to promote good community relations. The government was against it, so David wrote to the community relations officers at every local authority explaining why the CRC wanted the clause and asking them to contact their MPs. When it came to the vote, numerous MPs said this was the only point they had been lobbied on and the clause was duly passed.

David was born in West Ham, east London, the youngest of three sons of Jack Kohler, a removals man, and Ivy (nee Oldfield), a former lady’s maid. After passing his 11-plus, he won a scholarship to Chigwell school, Essex, and went on to read classics at Queen’s College, Oxford. He later wrote about his experiences of not fitting in (he had to learn to speak “properly”) and losing friends from home (“don’t he talk funny?”) in an article for the Guardian in 1968. Despite this, throughout his life, he considered himself lucky.

After graduating in 1964, he completed a diploma in public and social administration at Queen’s. During a summer holiday placement in Hythe, Kent, supporting disadvantaged children, he met Noel Haydon, a fellow camp supervisor, and they married in 1966.

David had joined the Liberal party while at university, and later became secretary of the party’s race relations panel. With Alan Little, his former CRC boss, he also contributed articles to New Community and New Society magazines.

In 1993, David was asked to be a “paper” candidate for Warwickshire county council in his local ward. He said, “If I’m going to stand, I’m going to do it properly”. Over the next six months, he knocked on every door in the ward, and won a previously safe Tory seat with a swing of 28%. He served as a Warwickshire county and Warwick district councillor for a total of 10 years, including a spell on the district council’s executive.

After standing down as a councillor, David retired and moved to Bournemouth in Dorset, and then Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, where he volunteered for the Samaritans for more than 13 years.

David and Noel divorced in 2001. He is survived by his children, Jak and me, four grandchildren, Anna, Sam, Ella and Eddie, and his brothers, John and Bryan.

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