David Foot writes about Sheila Schaffer, whose death marked a sad end to 2009…
When I first moved to Brighton, more than 10 years ago, I knew practically no-one and, with a new baby, did not get to see many of my clients. In my business, potential customers usually need to have a connection of some sort, either with their advisor, or the business that he or she represents: preferably regular, face-to-face contact. As a complete stranger, whose firm was based some 70 miles away, nobody had heard of me, or was likely to!
I sat on the sofa one Monday, with a small snuffly baby, and a copy of The Whistler on my lap. “Contributors wanted” it said. I got in touch there and then. To my slight surprise the charming editors said, in answer to my suggestion, that they would very much like to have a personal finance column, of some fashion. I set right to it, and wrote an article on ethical and environmental investments, my “pet” subject, which was duly printed. I was rather proud.
Forgive me, for rambling on, off-subject as it were, but I am getting to the nub of the matter. Some days later, I received a telephone call from a lady who had been waiting for a meeting in Community Base in Queens Road, and read The Whistler that was on a coffee table. “Are you the ethical investment fellow?” she asked. I said that, indeed I was. “Then we need to talk!”, and so we did, at some length. The lady’s name was Sheila Schaffer, a former Mayor of Brighton, political activist, pensioner’s rights campaigner, and one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She was my first client in Brighton, and became a good friend. It was with great sadness, that early in January, I heard of her death at the age of 82. She wanted to be sure that her investments were not in companies that were damaging people and the planet; she wanted her money to be used in ways that would help and not hurt, and, if possible, do something to improve the quality of life and of the environment. Human and animal rights were both of great importance to her, and she hated the thought of supporting companies that rode roughshod over either. She was none too keen on finding that some of her existing funds contained investments in tobacco companies, and even less keen on the arms manufacturers! The last time I saw her though, she positively glowed at my suggestion that she might consider including an element of forestry as an investment, one that was literally growing, and cleaning the air whilst doing so. Alas, before we arranged that, she was gone.
Sheila wanted me to go through all her “matters financial” and give an ethical “spring clean” to everything, to “cut out all the rot”, her words, not mine. I realise that not everyone is as single-minded as she was, but I think that there is room for us all to consider the impact that our money is having on others, on the environment in which we live, and maybe most importantly, on the world in which our children, and their children will live. Little by little, we might change things. She would have liked that. Rest in peace, Sheila, and may your God bless you.