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Camden New Journal - OBITUARY
Published: 18 September 2008

Charles Lefton
Charles saved thousands of lives with low-cost medicine

CHARLES Lefton, who has died aged 94, was indirectly responsible improving the better health of thousands of people all around the world. The Hampstead-based scientist used his training as a pharmacist to provide low-cost drugs to countries who, because of the Cold War, found it hard to source vital medicines from Western companies and governments.
Charles, who was born in the East End, spent his early life in the bosom of an orthodox Jewish family. As a child, his intellect was such that he excelled at Hebrew and had entertained ideas of becoming an Rabbi. He could recite prayers in both Hebrew and Yiddish.
But socialism was soon to become his abiding passion and belief system.
Growing up in the politically charged atmosphere of the East End in the 1930s, Charles found a home in the Stepney branch of the Young Communist League. He saw the danger of Fascism early on and, as with so many of his peers, the threats posed by Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts were on the doorsteps of the tenement blocks he grew up in. He was there in 1936 at the Battle of Cable Street.
Charles had ambitions to become a doctor, but because of a lack of cash trained as a pharmacist at University College London. During the Second World War he worked at the Ministry of Health. It kick-started a passion, fuelled by his political beliefs, to find ways of producing medicines that would be available to all at a low cost.
Charles helped develop a synthetic version of the anti-malaria treatment quinine. For troops serving in the Far East, the mass production of the drug was vital. Charles’s work saved thousands of lives.
After the war he left government service. His political views were well known and he had been instrumental in establishing union chapels in the civil service. With the Cold War looming, it made his career in Whitehall contentious. But while this could have been seen as a setback, Charles turned it to his own advantage – he set up a drug export company.
Many socialist countries had difficulty in sourcing medicine from the West. Charles saw no reason not to sell to anyone who needed his help. As well as furthering his humanitarian principles, it also meant his business had plenty of customers. He moved to Redington Road, Hampstead in the 1950s and lived there for the rest of his life.
During the 1960s Charles ran a charity called Medical Aid for Vietnam. He was struck by the suffering of civilians as the war raged. His efforts were honoured in Hanoi when US troops were withdrawn.
He remained active in the Communist Party up to the 1980s, but as the party split he joined the Labour Party. He was a lively debater in the Frognal and Fitzjohn’s branch of the party, a member of the Society for Socialist History, and enjoyed a monthly lunch date at the Hungarian restaurant, the Gay Hussar, in Greek Street, Soho, with other comrades.
Charles’s enquiring mind was driven by an undying thirst for knowledge. He loved art but not for art’s sake – he took a degree in his 70s in the history of art, but it was more to develop his own understanding of humanity. He enjoyed discussing anything from astronomy to the reasons behind the failure of socialism in the Soviet Union. He loved playing table tennis and cricket – a legacy of the place he won at Raines Grammar School as a boy.
Hampstead and Highgate MP Glenda Jackson said: “I was very sorry to hear of Charles’s death. He was a very dedicated party member, and was a great personal help to me when I first stood in Hampstead and Highgate.”
Charles is survived by his wife Mildred and two daughters Sue and Pam.

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