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James Edward Cole (Jim), CEng, FIET, 1931-2023

Jim was born in 1931 to Alick and Dorothy Cole in Streatham, London. (Alick later became manager of MWT’s Communications Division). The family moved to Radlett near Watford where Jim attended Watford Grammar School. After a further move to Chelmsford Jim attended Mid-Essex Technical College to study for a London University degree in Physics which he achieved in 1950 at the age of 19. He then joined Marconi and undertook a two-year graduate apprenticeship, including time as a junior engineer in the wooden huts at Writtle in 1952. Colleagues included Colin Lewis, Ken Johnson, George Otley and Rex Willet. Two years of national service followed at RAF Cranwell as a corporal wireless fitter. Jim returned to Marconi in 1954, working in new labs at Writtle. He became section leader in microwave communication systems. The photograph below shows Jim in the foreground on the telephone.

He met Barbara at ballroom dancing classes held at the County Hotel, Chelmsford. They married in 1961 and bought a house in Springfield which became their lifelong home. They were active members of the Marconi Auto Club, participating in treasure hunts, night-time rallies, and driving tests at Rivenhall airfield. They had two sons, David and Graham, who both went on to become engineers. Jim enjoyed family life, especially the annual holiday and supporting his sons’ interests. He also developed an interest in woodworking, making many items of furniture.

In 1965 Jim switched to manufacturing engineering and became factory superintendent at Beehive Lane works where the Myriad high-speed computer was made. He moved to New Street in 1972 to become manager of the printed circuit plant, where he introduced automation leading to a ten-fold increase in production (10,000 boards per week). His sons remember the Marconi Open Days when the New Street site was opened to the public and they were able to see the printed circuit plant in operation. He became FIEE in 1974 and FIProdE in 1978 (the two institutions are now combined as the IET).

In 1982 he became Divisional Manufacturing Manager, responsible for printed circuit assembly and the introduction of automated component insertion. Later on, as Manufacturing Engineering Manager, he implemented computer integrated manufacture. He was awarded an IEE Premium for a paper entitled ‘Design to Manufacture- an integrated information system’ based on research into computer aided engineering which he led.

Jim returned to the design function in 1989 becoming Company Chief Engineer, responsible for design to cost, design practices and standards, EMC, concurrent engineering, and design for reliability. His final position was as Company Quality Assurance Manager, from 1993.

Jim retired in 1996, 46 years after starting as a Marconi apprentice. In retirement he enjoyed travelling all over the UK and Europe with Barbara.

He built a 3.5” steam locomotive in his home workshop, as well as continuing his woodwork. When Barbara later suffered poor health he devoted his time to caring for her until she died at home in 2018. Jim seemed to cope well with life after Barbara. He focussed his effort on painting, gardening, keeping fit, and socialising with family and friends. He held several exhibitions of his paintings at Chelmsford Library and donated many paintings for permanent display in the corridors of Broomfield Hospital.

Jim died on 27 June 2023, aged 92, a few days after suffering a fall and sustaining a head injury during his daily morning walk into Chelmsford. He is survived by his sister Anne, sons David and Graham, daughter-in-law Ha and grandson Charlie.