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Talented sailor and co-founder of leading baby charity Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, now the Lullaby Trust, Charles de Selincourt OBE dies aged 88

THE Lymington-based co-founder of the UK’s pioneering infant-death charity has died aged 88.

Charles Martin de Selincourt OBE was a talented sailor and navigator, and won a host titles and trophies over the years.

Following the sudden death of his 13-month-old son Martin in 1969, he co-founded and was chair of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, now known as the Lullaby Trust.

Charles de Selincourt
Charles de Selincourt

He was born in Mayfair, London, in 1936 to parents Nancy and Martin, who was well known as chairman of family fashion retailer, Selincourt & Sons.

Aged four he was sent to New York with his sister Anne Marie and their nanny to live with a family friend to escape the height of the Second World War.

In 1943 on their return their ship came under German attack, so it was to the great relief of their parents when they eventually arrived safely at the family home on the River Hamble.

Charles de Selincourt
Charles de Selincourt

Later, Charles spent time in the Bahamas aboard HMS Ocean for his national service.

Fuelled by his love of sailing, he was chosen to crew the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Sceptre, competing for the America’s Cup in 1958.

After this, Charles continued to race, notably aboard the yachts of fighter pilot ace, Sir Max Aitken, crewing in one of the most exciting periods in the history of offshore racing.

They enjoyed most success in Roundabout, a one-tonner built at Clare Lallows boatyard in Cowes, gathering a tableful of trophies, including the Round-the-Island race in 1966 and 1967.

Charles, Tommy Sopwith and Don Shed celebrate a racing victory in Miss Enfield II in 1970
Charles, Tommy Sopwith and Don Shed celebrate a racing victory in Miss Enfield II in 1970

In the early days of powerboat racing, characters from a spectrum of backgrounds found their way into the sport and Charles teamed up as navigator with former racing car driver Tommy Sopwith to race together in Telstar, Miss Enfield II and Miss Embassy.

In Telstar, during the 1968 Cowes to Torquay race, Charles and Tommy took a tactical gamble to outwit their race rivals in taking a longer but smoother route, finishing the race in six hours – an exuberant 11 minutes ahead of the competition.

As determined in his career as he was in sport, Charles spent his working life within the paper and pulp industry. In the 1970s and 1980s he was managing director of the British International Paper Company and for 40 years he supplied newsprint to papers internationally, nationally and regionally, including the Advertiser & Times.

Charles and wife Jane, whom he married in 1966, were struck by personal tragedy three years later when their 13-month-old son Martin died from sudden infant death syndrome.

Together with Charles’ mother Nancy Hunter-Gray, they conceived the idea of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths.

For the 25 years under Charles’ captaincy the foundation flourished, supporting families of bereaved parents and bringing together specialists to investigate causes, alongside a reduction in the number of cot deaths thanks to the introduction of safe sleep campaigns.

Today the charity’s work continues as the Lullaby Trust.

On his retirement from the charity, actor Colin Baker – whose own son died from the syndrome – said of Charles: “He carried many admirable characteristics – hard working, humour, a strong sense of decency and fair play and with an enviable ability to pull together disparate viewpoints and bamboozle everyone into thinking that there never was any divergence of opinion in the first place.”

He is survived by Jane, daughter Nicola, sons Michael, Andrew and Christopher, and seven grandchildren.

Charles winning the Cowes Torquay Offshore Powerboat Race in 1968
Charles winning the Cowes Torquay Offshore Powerboat Race in 1968

Having lived in London nearly all his working life, retirement signalled an opportunity to move near the Solent, and the family settled in Pilley.

Charles enjoyed spending part of the year at his cottage in he village of Quinéville, Normandy. There he was instrumental in erecting a memorial stone to its liberation by American forces.

Every year since, American, Canadian and now German veterans have attend a ceremony in memory of all those who lost their lives at the D-Day landings and in bringing an end to the Second World War.

He was described by his family as “a lover of all good things in life”.

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