Jim Parke obituary

My friend Jim Parke, who has died of cancer aged 82, had a life of achievement in two separate spheres. After a distinguished career in education, he played a transformative role in the protection and maintenance of rights of way in Oxfordshire.

Like many passionate defenders of the countryside, Jim came from an urban background. He was born and grew up in Birmingham, where his parents, Edwin and Irene, owned two bakeries, and where he attended King Edward’s school, and then the university, graduating in history and geography. There he met Angela Withers-Lancashire, whom he married in 1964.

After 10 years teaching in the West Midlands, Jim changed over into administration, becoming in 1978 education officer for Milton Keynes, then the fastest growing city in the UK. The dynamic experience of founding new schools there was contrasted, when he took on a similar role for the whole of Buckinghamshire, by the more painful, fractious and protracted process of closing dozens of existing ones in areas of falling rolls.

Jim retired in 1999, but was promptly re-employed on a part-time basis to advise on the development and maintenance of school buildings in Windsor and Maidenhead, work which continued into his 70s. Meanwhile he found himself drawn more and more into engagement with the great outdoors. An enthusiasm for landscape that dated back to geography field trips was now married to a concern that so many of the paths where he loved to hike were in poor condition. He came to be known as “Mr Clippy” because of his liberal use of secateurs.

After he and Angela settled in retirement in Kennington, just outside Oxford, he joined the two (distinct but parallel) local walking organisations. He soon rose to the top of the Oxford Fieldpaths Society, cherishing and enhancing its history of activism as well as its ambulatory sociability.

The Oxfordshire Ramblers afforded still greater scope for Jim’s energies. He set up a county-wide network of parish path wardens, to maintain and defend rights of way. When the Ramblers Association more recently launched its national campaign to recover “lost paths”, he promptly bolted it on to his existing scheme in order to compile a comprehensive register of routes to be claimed.

Above all, “Mr Clippy” established the Vale Path Volunteers, a model clearance team in the Vale of the White Horse, planning and managing well over a hundred sessions with his trademark cheery efficiency and attention to the finest detail, from the technicalities of brushcutting to the provision of biscuits (invariably Hobnobs) for all participants.

Jim is survived by Angela, their son, Christopher, and daughter, Emma, four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.