Obituary: Maurice Soffa

Intrepid businessman who launched Harrow’s University of the Third Age


It was after retiring from a successful business career that Maurice Soffa, who has died aged 95, developed the University of the Third Age in Harrow (U3A). He had made his mark as a manager of Remploy (the UK company which finds employment for the disabled) and later worked in construction and protective clothing world-wide.

Born in Cardiff, Soffa had a difficult start in life. At the age of seven his mother died in a tragic accident and his father was unable to look after him. His 14 year old brother Alf remained in Cardiff while Maurice was sent to the Norwood Jewish Orphanage. As money was scarce, his father could not afford to visit him for the first six months at Norwood, which caused Maurice to feel sad and bereft for many months. Fortunately, his fellow pupils invited him to spend weekends with their families in London. At the age of 14, he left school, and returned to his family in Cardiff.

At Norwood, Maurice had a religious education which enabled him to conduct Jewish services throughout his life, at home, with friends and on the numerous cruises he enjoyed on retirement. When he returned to Cardiff he joined the Western Mail as a proof reader but poor eyesight ended that career. He then joined his uncle selling photographs door to door, before enlisting with the RAF where he was given a meteorological post and sent to Sierra Leone.

On his return he set up a handbag business with his friend Derek Abse, a cousin of the the poet Danny Abse, which unfortunately did not prove successful. On April 7, 1948 Maurice married Muriel Simmonds at the Cathedral Road Synagogue in Cardiff. It was through her contacts that he became manager of the Remploy Factory in Abertillery, South Wales. But one year later he was talent-scouted by the head of Remploy who transferred him to London to manage 12 branches. Maurice moved to London in 1953 with his wife and one year old daughter Helen. In 1956 they had another daughter Judith. During this time Maurice was an active member of the Kingsbury Synagogue and became chairman of their kindergarten

In 1965 he left Remploy to join Lessers, a new Jewish business, and eventually became its driving force, opening up new business opportunities in construction and protective clothing world-wide. He met Kofi Annan before he headed the United Nations, and he spent months in Nigeria securing contracts for a hotel in Kano, and various Government contracts. On his last visit to Nigeria Maurice was unfortunately involved in a serious car accident and was found by Canadian missionaries in the Nigerian bush. They saved his life by caring for him in a missionary hospital and helping him back to the UK for medical treatment.

At 60 Maurice retired and his second career took off. He started the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Harrow and lectured on musical appreciation — his favourite composer was Mahler. He was also president of the Harrow Rotary Club, and a member of the Older People’s Council, where he lectured on public speaking and other subjects, as he did on many cruises with his wife. He also launched a garden design business and joined numerous City Lit courses.

Maurice was a political animal throughout his life. From an early age he joined the Labour Party of which he remained a loyal supporter. He was on the hustings in South Wales promoting Labour Party candidates, including Lord Tonypandy. But he was very saddened at what he regarded as Labour’s recent links with antisemitism.

Maurice continued developing his interests and his love of people, regardless of background, creed or colour. His energy and desire to make friends with people from all walks of life never left him. The shelves in thefamily home were full of books and he was reading till the end, even Simon Schama’s latest History of the Jews, which proved too heavy to hold. Each visitor had to choose a book when they left or they were not allowed to leave.

Until the last week of his life he and Muriel would go to his favourite restaurant three times a week. He loved football and for many years he was a QPR season ticket holder with Muriel, to whom he was happily married for 69 years. The couple continued cruising until they reached 90, and they kept memorabilia from each destination. The only area of the world they hadn’t visited was Antarctica.

Family holidays continued throughout his life, as relationships were very important to him. He maintained close links with his brother’s son Stanley Soffa and his wife Diana in Cardiff, and their children Ben and Vicky, donating a room to the Cardiff Jewish care home in which his brother stayed before he passed away. He is survived by his wife Muriel, and their two daughters Helen and Judith Soffa.



Maurice Soffa: born February 17, 1922. Died November 13, 2017.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive