Obituary: Coral Samuel, CBE

Peter Fineman looks back with affection on a charity maven, opera buff and avid race-goer


A prolific supporter and trustee of a wide range of both Jewish and non-Jewish charities, Coral Samuel, who has died aged 95, gave not only extensive financial support but also wide-ranging advice, which continued to be sought long after her retirement, for which she was rewarded with a CBE.

While her involvement in many varied aspects of society spoke to her broad interests, her particular passion was education.

She founded the first day nursery for mentally handicapped children under five and was for many years a governor of St Pauls Boys’ and Girls’ School and Dauntseys School.

It was a role recognised by her admission as a Member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. In the front of a book she kept by her desk was a quotation by Lady Bird Johnson: “Remember that education is a loan to be repaid by a gift of self”. And that is what Coral Samuel did.

She was a trustee of over 30 charitable organisations, but the list of those where she played a pivotal role is extensive, starting with her work at the Stepney Jewish Settlement where she became President.

In those early days at Stepney she was approached by someone who asked her – “Do you work here? Or are you a lady?”

She was also President of the Union of Jewish Women, a key supporter of the Community Security Trust, a member of the Executive of Jewish Care, and a regular supporter of Nightingale, Maccabi GB and Magen David Adom.

Her trusteeships highlighted her cultural interests; they included the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Chelsea Physic Garden, National Gallery Trust, and Royal Pavilion at Brighton. She co-founded the Friends of the Royal Academy and the Friends of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

As a trustee of the National Maritime Museum she was instrumental in supporting the raising of Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose. She was an honorary life patron of the Natural History Museum, Museum of London, Tate Britain, the British Museum and the Royal Academy of Arts.

She had a great love of music, particularly opera. She regularly attended and supported Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

But she was also particularly interested in helping in those areas that were less appealing to others.

These included the upgrading of toilet facilities at such places as the New West End Synagogue, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Old Vic.

Coral Cynthia Julius was born in the East End on August 10, 1927, the eldest of four daughters.

Her mother came from a humble background with little formal education, but determined to self-educate, a precursor to Coral’s interest in that sphere. Her father was a graduate in chemistry who went both to London University and then Imperial College.

Coral also went to London University. One of her greatest regrets was being sent down, a fact she blamed on being involved with the “wrong set”.

In 1947 Coral married her first husband Louis, a successful property developer who died suddenly in 1960. Her second husband was also a property developer, Basil Samuel, whom she married in 1962 and who died in 1988.

When not pursuing her charitable interests Coral Samuel was an avid race-goer and had many notable wins with her horse Brown Chamberlin.

Her daughter Lynne predeceased her in 1983. She is survived by her children, Peter, Irene and Angela, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

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