Remembering Tom Howard -
5th July 1928 to 30th June 2021.
Tom had been living with dementia for some years and the times he looked back upon most fondly were his years of being evacuated to Bedford with Owen's School.
Tom was born on 15th July 1928 and brought up in Islington, the son of an LMS Railway foreman. He had a brother John 6 years,6 months and 6 days older who joined the Royal Marines as a regular and was part of the D Day landings. I expect with his skill in figures Tom worked out the age difference. Tom loved to read and avidly read the newspaper which was the only reading material available until he was able to access the public library, as often as he was allowed, then he would devour books reading day and night. He enjoyed school and was an achiever. He also enjoyed sport and singing and while at primary school was selected to join the London Schools Choir for a performance which he thoroughly enjoyed.
Tom talked about the tall head boy from Owen's coming to collect him to take him for an exam at the school and the fact that he, Tom, was still quite small and in short trousers. Tom's mother ensured he was able to take up a scholarship place with Owens and he was evacuated with the school on 1st September 1939.
Tom first stayed with the family who owned the radio/electrical shop in Bedford. He was in the company of three adult sons and learned a lot from that experience. His next billet was with a couple but as the husband became unwell Tom was moved again. This time he moved to stay with Miss Carter, an elderly spinster who lived in Brereton Road. Tom was very fond of Miss Carter and they enjoyed a good relationship supporting each other. While Tom clearly missed his mother, who visited when she could, having accepted his situation, he found the experience of being with the school and experiencing a different sort of lifestyle to be one he emulated. He told me about sharing facilities with Bedford School and how they had lessons in all sorts of places at varying times. He spoke fondly of teachers who were clearly a great encouragement to the boys. Tom met his best friend Terry at school and they appeared to have spent a lot of time exploring by bicycle. Tom did very well at school, however his father refused to allow him to continue his education and Tom left in 1944.
I took Tom to Bedford in 2016 to celebrate his birthday during the river festival and he was able to remember many places on our walks around. He told me that Bedford was a place where everyone cycled and showed me the bridge where the factory workers would stream over on their bikes at the end of their day. I also saw a picture of a sad little boy when he said at the station that that was the best bit, going home to Mum. I think he did what he has always done and made the best of every situation.
Tom worked for a stockbroker as a runner, did National Service in the RAF in signals and worked as a book keeper for a gown and mantle company and then for a company making chemists sundries for a man he respected highly as being kind and generous to his workers and charity, unfortunately at a cost to his business. Tom was then invited to join Standard Chartered Bank, as it is now called, passed his banking exams, studied at one time with John Major (former PM) and worked there until he took early retirement. During this time Tom played football and cricket for as long as possible including playing for the Old Boys (he still had his badge) and for the Bank. He took up bowls and continued playing until last year. Tom remembered boys from school. Ray Coombes, Stan Gould, David Bernstein, Jack Levy in particular and we met them at various functions like the afternoon tea at the new school, Old Owenian's lunches and at the Royal Albert Hall where he sang the school song with gusto and tears in his eyes. Tom loved music especially opera and classical music, something he learned about while at Owen's.
Tom loved his home having moved there in 1959 just before he was first married. Tom has a son and daughter, three granddaughters and two great grandsons. He loved his beautiful organic garden and it was often difficult to get him to come in from it. Always up for a new challenge and a hard worker he built his own kitchen and fitted wardrobes, most recently in his 80s a high bed with storage below as well as helping others with gardening and DIY when he first retired. Tom always seemed to have a lot of ladies around him and was always so good and patient with those older ladies who sparkled in his company. A quiet, kind, real gentleman in all ways with a dry sense of humour who always looked at least 20 years younger than he was I was lucky to meet and fall in love with him after his first marriage broke up and he was divorced. While Tom managed to have two 25th Wedding Anniversaries, sadly he did not make it to his 100th birthday as he had planned.
After his early retirement we met dancing at Peggy Spencer's in Penge and being quite a determined person he pursued me around the dance floor until I gave in. I found it difficult to believe his age as he always looked so young and had so much energy. We have enjoyed 33 years together, done a lot of travelling visiting India, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Hawaii, snorkelled in the Maldives, Figi and Great Barrier Reef taken a helicopter trip to the Fox Glacier, been on safari in Kenya, contributed to a hospital that we visited in Senegal and to aid deaf people in Sri Lanka when we visited after the Tsunami and spent many, many years visiting the Canary Islands sunbathing and touring around as well as doing up our holiday home in Dorset. Tom tried flying and gliding too, not bad for a retirement.
Tom looked after me, as well as the house and garden, for 18 years while I was at work with an awful commute and a very stressful job until my early retirement in 2006.He has also supported me the whole time with my voluntary role of welfare with RAF Music Services. I first noticed signs of a cognitive decline in 2006 on a three month tour around Australia by camper van but Tom managed wonderfully for years, his intelligence and resourcefulness allowing him to overcome his memory problems only being diagnosed about four years ago with dementia. Tom was resistant to being helped so we managed together with me as his 24/7 carer until after a fall in the early hours of 25th June he was admitted to hospital where he died on 30th June from what was said to be urosepsis. Later I was informed he had died from an undiagnosed lung infection not picked up as unseen by a GP despite a persistent cough for 15 months and being inadvertently noted deceased when he had an X ray a month earlier which was never properly examined until I raised queries after his death.
After my experience of being initially barred from staying with him in hospital until St Christopher's Palliative care intervened, as the only person who knew him so well, could understand him and advocate for him I am now joining in campaigning to ensure people with dementia can always have the care and presence of their nearest and dearest carer and supporting John's Campaign. Without hearing aids or me to ensure he understood what was happening Tom gave in to the invasive treatments and unrecognised pain and deteriorated so quickly he could not recover, strong man though he was. I was grateful to be able to be with him for his last days and when he died in my arms 15 days before his 93rd birthday.
Tom was always grateful to the opportunities afforded by being evacuated with Owen's School for his education and showing him the life he could have. He made the very best of that life.
Tom was buried after a celebration of the life of a wonderful kind, loving gentleman in a woodland cemetery on 3rd August 2021.
Written by: Unity Howard