Smile Train mourns the loss of James Partridge OBE, a fearless advocate for facial equality, who passed away 16 August, 2020.
James was 18 years old and counting down the days until he started at Oxford when he was caught in a car fire that burned 40% of his body and changed his face — and his life — forever. He spent months recovering and even had to take an unexpected “gap year” in an intensive care unit. He hardly recognised his own face by the time his treatments were completed but never doubted he was still the same person on the inside. He still went to Oxford as planned and succeeded in spite of learning on the fly how to handle the stigma of having a burned face and needing to take regular breaks for extensive plastic surgery.
After graduating, he tried to settle down, finding a few jobs in academia before moving with his wife, Caroline, to her native Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, to work as a dairy farmer and economics teacher. But while alone in the cow pens, he couldn’t ignore the voice calling to him to use his second chance at life to do what he could for those who, because they were born with different faces, never had their first. In 1990, he published the book Changing Faces: The Challenge of Facial Disfigurement, and the worldwide response was so positive, it inspired him to found an NGO called Changing Faces, dedicated to fighting for the rights and equal inclusion of people born with facial differences.
James had found his purpose. He spent the rest of his life travelling the world, speaking and advocating on behalf of those marginalised, abused, and shunned because of the way they look; educating the media, governments, and the public alike on how to sensitively include and affirm all faces. One of his greatest successes came in 2002, when Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in recognition of his efforts — and he took the honour as motivation to do even more. In 2018, he started a second organisation, Face Equality International (FEI), of which Smile Train is a proud founding member. FEI is an alliance of 35 charities large and small committed to mobilising their influence to put the issues people with facial differences confront on the agenda of the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities, international bodies, companies, and social media outlets.
Then, in June 2020, James released his second book, FACE IT — a memoir, manual, and manifesto for the facial equality movement he pioneered. He was hard at work using his new book as yet another opportunity to advocate for the marginalised and overlooked when the cancer he had been battling for years suddenly and unexpectedly took him from us at age 67.
“All of us at Smile Train are simply devastated by this loss and send our sincerest condolences to Caroline and her children and grandchildren during this difficult time,” said Susannah Schaefer, Smile Train’s President and CEO. “The work we do at Smile Train to fight for the dignity of every face owes so much to 30 years of James’s trailblazing advocacy. His life is proof that one person can change the face of history, and we join our fellow members of FEI in recommitting ourselves to building a world where everyone is treated equally, no matter how they look, in his honour.”