As a Bevin Boy, conscripted into the coal mines during the Second World War, Ronald (Ronnie) Jacobs, who has died aged 93, was probably the first Jew the mining families of Beighton in Sheffield had ever met. His years there as an electrician’s assistant had a lasting influence on him.
Bevin Boys replaced army recruits under an initiative by wartime Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin. Here, young men were chosen by lots to work in the mines instead of military conscription. After the war Ronnie and his wife Eva annually visited the Beighton families with whom he had lived.
Ronnie was an enthusiastic learner. Born in Leicester to David Edward Jacobs and Nelly (née Wachman), he attended Clifton College and Mill Hill School before obtaining a B.Sc in electrical engineering from Battersea Polytechnic Institute in 1948 — the first in his family to gain a university degree.
After graduating, Ronnie worked at Marconi’s in Chelmsford, but left in 1950 to develop his managerial skills in the family leather business, David E. Jacobs, Ltd. In 1966, on his father’s death, he assumed sole management of the firm until his retirement in 1991.
From 1950 through to the 1970s supply and demand for leather and leather goods expanded world-wide. The company became well-known at home and abroad. Ronnie travelled to purchase hides and sell leather in Norway, former Yugoslavia, Italy, Argentina, and Brazil. His firm exhibited annually at international leather fairs, and Ronnie became President of the Leather Manufacturers Association in 1965. In that same decade, he became a member of The Worshipful Company of Patten Makers.
But from 1970 to 1990 the leather trade in England dwindled; fierce competition from tanneries and leather manufacturers abroad caused the demise of most British tanneries and shoe factories. On Ronnie’s retirement, the company was dissolved.
Ronnie was interested in classical music all his life, regularly attending concerts and operas, while at home he built a quality radio system for his large collection of recordings. He and his wife, Eva Cahn, also met annually for musical evenings with friends.
In his 20s he began editing ephemeral magazines and became the editor of the newsletter of the Pattenmakers Company. Once he retired, Ronnie took history and philosophy courses at the University of the Third Age, joined a poetry and a philosophy group, and studied at Leo Baeck College.
Born into the dynastic Orthodox Jacobs’ family, Ronnie and his family chose, after the Second World War, to join West London Reform Synagogue. There Ronnie continued the family’s religious commitment, joining the Synagogue Council in his 20s, and co-founding its Seymour Group.
Later he joined the editorial board of the synagogue’s newsletter and the RSGB committee responsible for the most recent revisions to the prayer book. For many years after he retired Ronnie recorded weekly articles from the J C for the visually impaired.
Central to Ronnie’s life was his commitment both to his immediate and extended family, often meeting for vacations and celebrations. As the years passed he became one of the “Elders”, helping to maintain contact.
Ronnie Jacobs is survived by Eva, their children Mark, (daughter-in-law Sue) and Karen, sister Joan, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ronald Jacobs: born February 5, 1924. Died January 12, 2018