William (Bill) Lethorn
By Sue Walder
Born in India in 1935, William Lethorn had a privileged upbringing during the last days of the British Raj. Raised in Hazaribagh, he boarded at St. George’s College, a Catholic school in the foothills of the Himalayas, and by the time he left India in 1948 he had lived through some of the most turbulent episodes in the subcontinent’s history including partition, independence, and Gandhi’s assassination.
Bill has lived in Finchley since 1950 and, despite a growing family and a career in marine and fine art insurance at Lloyd’s, he has always found time for community activities. He is the founder chairman of the Finchley Oxfam Group and has been on the Finchley Carnival Committee for over 30 years. He has also had a keen involvement in local football. Last year he was one of eight people to receive a Barnet Civic Award.
Now semi-retired and a great-grandfather, he is still very active in the local community and has written a family memoir called The Jewel Returned. To find out more about Bill, visit www.lethorn.com.
What is your earliest memory?
My father’s death when I was two years old and living in India. Everyone was dressed in black and preparing for the funeral. Sadly, he had just been promoted to manage an estate in Simla but died following an operation to remove gallstones.
Another strong memory is arriving at boarding school in the Himalayas when I was five and a half years old – it was very cold.
Do you feel British or Indian?
I tend to think of myself as an Anglo-Indian because of my upbringing, but I definitely feel British and perhaps more English than the English – especially when our national cricket and rugby teams are playing.
Who or what has been the greatest influence in your life?
That would be my mother. My father died young and didn’t leave her a penny, so she was a single parent and had to work. She was very strong and very kind, and taught me always to do the right thing.
How important has your Catholic upbringing and education been?
It’s been a very important part of my life. My boarding school was run by Patrician Brothers and I’m in regular contact with former pupils through the alumni association. Since I was 15 I have been involved in many church activities, including youth clubs and running football teams, and I was president of the Young Christian Workers group in Westminster. I still sit on the board of governors at St. Theresa’s RC School.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
Well, I’ve done so many things already. I met Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and I’ve just returned from a visit to the Holy Land where I was privileged to attend a mass within Christ’s tomb. However, I do want to return to India at least one more time and I would love to visit Australia again to see family and friends.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Pope John XXIII, Mother Theresa, Stanley Matthews, Dennis Compton, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.
What do you like/dislike about living in Finchley?
We live close to Dollis Brook, so we can enjoy walking through lovely woodland and green spaces. On the other hand, not being able to park at Finchley Central station after 9.00am because it is already full is a bother.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’ve always tried to help people, but the most important thing is my family. I’d like to be remembered as a loving father, grandfather and now great-grandfather.