AN ADMIRER of Disraeli, and an active supporter of the Liberal party, my uncle Philip Cowan stood for parliament as Liberal candidate twice, retaining his deposit both times, writes Jonathan Samuel. In the General Election of 1964, he was candidate for Paddington South – the same constituency held by Lord Randolph Churchill in the 1880s and 1890s.
He had the most remarkable memory of anyone I have known. He could memorise a full pack of cards and multiply seven digit numbers in his head, and possessed an amazing collection of assorted knowledge. Always an asset in shul quizzes, he was once a competitor on Radio 4’s “Brain of Britain” general knowledge panel game where he gave a creditable performance.
The son of a civil servant, Joseph Cowen, Philip was born on the verge of the Second World War, the youngest of three siblings. Growing up under rationing he reached the height of 6ft 2in on the powdered eggs and the careful but nutritious diet provided by his mother Rebecca.
Philip was a scholarship pupil at St Paul’s School, studying Latin and Greek, and won an open scholarship in classics to read PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
At Oxford, he was President of the Oxford University Liberal Club and active in the Oxford Union. He worked as an investment analyst and the peak of this early career was his year at Slater Walker, working as an ideasman for city high flier, Jim Slater in 1970.
At the age of40 Philip passed the Law Society exams, but finding little work in that field on qualifying, he set up and ran his own employment agency for lawyers. He also devised and set up a non-profit-making fund, controlled by representatives of the main educational bodies, that received money on deposit and divided the income between the investors and charity.
As a bachelor, which was perhaps his one regret in life, he cared for his elderly mother and in maturity devoted himself to running children’s charities such as the National Children’s Charities Trust, Alexandra Rose Day and a medical research trust. He was concerned about fraudulent charity collectors and was a vocal critic of the Charity Commission for its ineffectiveness in preventing fraud. He started a company called “Charity Check” which assessed the genuineness of charity collections and funds. He drafted several successful parliamentary Early Day Motions aimed at reform of the charitable sector.
Philip was always brimming with bright ideas, some of which came to fruition years after he suggested them. He once proposed a light going around a race track to represent the world record pace for Olympic racing. He thought of launching a Senior Citizens’ Party in the European Elections and he predicted that scientists will discover a way to eliminate ageing.
A member of West London Synagogue, Philip remained sincere in his religion, and in his support for Israel and the Jewish people. He continued to work on his knowledge of Hebrew and of Judaism throughout his life.
Together with an incredible mind, he had a very soft heart. He was a man of gentle courtesy and his intelligence was touched with a slight air of amusement.
Other interests in which he actively participated were “Torah with Laura”. a Talmud class at London’s Alyth Gdns Synagogue, Hampstead’s, Cafe Philo, Highgate Literary Society, the Probus Club, and the Jewish Volunteer Network.
Philip Cowan: intelligence and concern