Kate Vokes, Chair of the Oglesby Charitable Trust: a tribute
It is a strange paradox that there are so many words, and yet there are no words. So many words to describe Kate’s warmth and generosity, her independent spirit, her energy, vision and so much more. More words to describe Archie as an inspiring athlete, an engaging and caring young man who it was just lovely to be around. All of these words are true; and yet there are no words to describe the awfulness of the tragic accident that took the life of Kate and her son Archie last month, and the painful loss that so many of us feel in their absence.
Like so many others, here at the OCT we have lost a colleague, mentor, role model, and friend, but in losing Kate, we have also lost our Chair: our leader. And it’s a curious exercise, really, to characterise Kate as Leader, because this was a title she was never hugely comfortable with. She led, for sure – confidently and decisively, but she was a natural collaborator, trusting us as a team to give us the freedom to develop our vision and plans together.
As we come to terms with our loss, our thoughts must also turn to our good fortune in having had the time we did with Kate. We gained in so many ways – as people, as a charity, and as a sector, and we take some comfort in knowing that Kate will always be with us, through the example she set, the inspiration she provided, and in the positive practices we developed from working alongside her. Perhaps, for us at the OCT, by focusing on what we valued and learned from Kate’s leadership, we have a chance of ensuring her presence remains central to our future.
Over the past weeks, many people have been returning to treasured recollections of moments with Kate they’ve valued. Jacqui is our Finance Manager and originally worked with Kate at Bruntwood. “I remember when my children were young, I handed in my notice because I thought that was the only way I could focus on family life. Kate showed me how I could stay connected to the business and still have time for the family. Now that they’re grown up, that decision has enabled me to return fully to a role I love. Without Kate’s belief in me and her creative thinking, I think it would have been much harder for me to pick up where I’d left off. I’ll always value her support of my career and her commitment to me as an individual.”
Kate was committed to using and developing our individual strengths; going with ‘what works’ and where our interests lay, rather than rigid notions of who does what. This meant that as a team, we could work authentically and creatively, going beyond the grant and engaging more fully with community sector colleagues. She was proactive about inclusion in every sense, sharing her platform with others, challenging conventions about whose voices are heard, and whose stories are told. This natural propensity towards including and empowering others is one we will nurture.
Emily worked at the OCT until July 2023: “When I think of Kate, I remember the feeling of being in conversation with her – energised by her interest and questions, and knowing that I had to have my brain fully engaged in order to keep up. As Chair, Kate enabled everyone to feel heard, but wasn’t afraid to take a difficult decision (or move everyone on when we got sidetracked)! It was wonderful to work with someone so willing and able to move from talking about her sons, to natural wine, to diving, to new business developments, the power of the arts and the future of philanthropy – all with the same insight and passion.”
Like her father – the late Michael Oglesby, our former Chair – Kate’s perspective on the issues we tackle as a Trust was indeed expansive. Kathryn’s a lawyer and also a Trustee at the OCT: ”Kate had a great ability to see the wider picture. When considering applications for funding she would ask “what else can we do?” and our Funding Plus initiative grew out of this approach. She applied the same skills in her dealings with colleagues and friends and was always available with support and wise counsel when needed.”
Working in a funding organisation is a huge privilege, but it comes with a kind of heaviness at times – problems are complex, solutions are evasive; change is slow. Kate, together with Jane, so often brought new perspectives and energy that provided the lightness we needed.
Emily: “She helped our small team to feel like family, and her energy and joy was infectious. It was such a privilege to watch her and Jane work together, laughing and joking, and above all, always lifting each other up. I will miss her immensely.”
Osman joined the team in January 2023. “Kate was a truly inspirational person to work with and genuinely loved helping people. In my first few weeks at the OCT, she was incredibly kind and welcoming, regularly going out of her way to sit down with me to discuss the Trust, how I was settling in, or just to chat about football. She loved to tell me, regularly, how Manchester City would eventually overhaul my beloved Arsenal to win the league. I’d tell her there was absolutely no chance of that happening…until, as always, Kate was proven right! She was a real force of positivity.”
Brilliant humans like Kate, and like Jane, make for brilliant philanthropists. She understood the shortcomings of philanthropy itself: its inherent constraints and limitations, and used this knowledge to bring about change: to listen to, and collaborate with communities, to encourage openness and flexibility, and share resources across sectors.
Crucially, she inspired others to see themselves as philanthropists – and for this alone, our sector has lost such a role model in losing Kate. She epitomised the best kind: conscious, connected, creative and commercial. She was unafraid to think big; her take on the purpose of philanthropy being unlimited to ‘teaching a man how to fish,’ but more about re-shaping the whole fishing industry.
This commercial perspective, mixed with her compassion and creativity, was perhaps what made her contribution to the VCSE sector so unique. A kind of ‘philanthropreneur’, she was able to spot and forge opportunities, solutions and connections between people, enabling good philanthropy and good business to meet. We hope that some of the seeds she sowed will be nurtured and grow into a new cohort of engaged and engaging funders and philanthropists.
For me, I’ve been struck by how influential Kate was, across so many fields, and how she remained so open-minded. She had such authority and presence and yet she spent so much time deeply listening to others – and very little of it ‘telling’. She had decades of experience, but never seemed jaded. I will miss the chats that I, like so many others, had with her – that went wildly off topic, raised more questions than you started with, but left you feeling somehow, just better.
Kate has left such an imprint on our lives and our work. We are bolder, more independent and more dynamic as a Trust for having had her leadership. There is laughter in our Trust meetings, a healthy appetite for doing things differently and an ‘ambitious pragmatism’ about impact. We give ourselves permission not to take ourselves too seriously – but we are still passionate about what we are here to do, and the opportunities that lie ahead.