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A tribute to Jim Potter

It is with heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of Jim Potter (1944-2024), a remarkable man who played an instrumental role as a founding trustee and a driving force behind Zambia Orphans Aid UK (ZOA-UK). Jim served as our first treasurer and oversaw our programmes, bringing both passion and expertise to our cause until he was forced to step down from the board last year due to declining health.

Jim’s journey with Zambia Orphans Aid began when he was invited by Dr. Shimwaayi Muntemba, the founder, to help establish the UK branch in 2006. Jim’s mother was born in Namwaala, Zambia, to missionary parents and he always felt a strong connection to the country, moving there himself with his first wife, Judy, after graduating from Cambridge in 1967. Jim went to Zambia as part of the Overseas Development Institute’s fellowship scheme to help support the newly independent government’s transition to power and was posted to the Ministry of Finance. On arrival he found that the accommodation being built for new expatriates was not ready so, typically, rather than wait around Jim went off and bought a house with a chicken farm attached to it, so ran the chicken farm alongside his professional duties.

Photo credit: Sorcha Barnes

This showed the characteristic which ran all through his life – enterprise – and he was often described as a natural entrepreneur. This was revealed again shortly after he moved back to the UK when he decided to branch out and set up his own business. When Jim sold his first business, he became a philanthropist but this was not just a question of giving money but something more valuable, his time and energy. This can be seen in the many Trusteeships he took on from The Energy Savings Trust, Addenbrookes Hospital, and in establishing ZOA-UK.

Jim had a particular tic. When he had decided to do something he would quickly lick the tip of his fingers with a gesture of “let’s get on with it”, a sense of urgency that remained with him throughout his life.

Jim’s flair for organising made him a natural leader which enabled him to steer ZOA-UK from its initial focus on paying fees to help orphans enter school, to the implementation of wider evidence-based programmes that make tangible differences to the lives of disadvantaged children in Zambia. Under Jim’s stewardship, our initiatives expanded to encompass a holistic approach to education and well-being. In 2023 alone, we were able to extend our support to 2,000 children, ensuring they have access to education, while also offering school-based counselling and strategies to promote sexual health awareness and address harassment, benefiting an additional 5,000 young people.

Jim was the father of three daughters and this no doubt made him the passionate advocate for girls’ education that he was. He spearheading the development of our menstrual hygiene management programme and remained a champion of equal opportunities for women and girls.

As we reflect on Jim’s extraordinary legacy, his boundless energy and enthusiasm will continue to inspire our work as we collaborate with communities to assist disadvantaged children and young people in Zambia. Jim was laid to rest on Monday 18 March next to his beloved wife, Hilary. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.