John Christopher Jeffery
Chris was born in Derby, the first of four children, and was brought up on a farm in Sudbury, Derbyshire. As a small boy he took his first steps in engineering by mending and maintaining farm machinery. He tended a patch in the garden to grow mustard and cress, and made meccano machines to harvest it. His interest in designing aero engines started early and as a young boy he had his own table in the kitchen covered in balsa wood model aeroplanes. Prep school at local Brocksford Hall as a day boy was followed by senior school at The Leys in Cambridge at the age of 13, also attended by his Derby friend Fred Smith. Chris did not really fit in with the very sporty culture. Games were compulsory on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but he usually managed to contrive having a verruca and got sent to the san instead. He enjoyed sixth form, especially maths taught informally by the very tall Mini Moore. By this time he was dating Dorothy Bull, daughter of Sudbury’s vicar, the Reverend E B Bull. He left school in 1954, and in retrospect felt that one of the most important things boarding school had taught him was how to get on with people.
Before leaving school he was both accepted as a Rolls-Royce apprentice and achieved a place at Sidney Sussex College Cambridge to read Engineering – but first he went straight into National Service for basic training with the Household Cavalry Training Regiment at Carlisle. After passing out he was posted to an artillery unit in Germany and then back to Middle Wallop to train as an air observation post pilot; he was very airsick, and pleased when his two years were up and he could get out of his uniform and into a set of white Rolls-Royce apprentice overalls for his first year as a university apprentice. After a year spent learning drawing and manual skills in the training school and on shop floor jobs, including completely overhauling the engine of his classic J2 MG, it was back to education, with three years reading Engineering at Cambridge which he thoroughly enjoyed.
Back at Rolls-Royce to complete his apprenticeship he enjoyed design, but set his sights on engine development: “One reason was the same reason that led me to Rolls-Royce in the first place. I’ve always liked working with engines, preferably hands on. Engines have personalities just like animals, they engage your senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch to tell you what they are doing, and whether or not all is well.”
Before starting his new role in engine development, he married his childhood sweetheart, Dorothy: “probably the best decision I’ve ever made”. They lived together in Derby enjoying a great decade to be working for Rolls-Royce with multiple different engines in development, including civil transport, supersonic fighter and jet lift power planes. By 1969 Chris was project engineer, with financial, contractual and technical responsibility for the engine programme, and in 1970 relocated the family to Montreal where everyone enjoyed lakeshore life, snowy winters and sunny summers until Rolls-Royce went bankrupt in 1971 they returned to the UK. In 1972 Chris started working at Coles Cranes in Sunderland, but after a hostile take-over the family moved again to Worcester, where he worked as chief engineer of Froude Engineering. The business took over all the dynamometer and test plant work, keeping Chris close to engines, all the way from Grand Prix engines to huge marine diesels, not forgetting the jets and turboshafts tested by his old friends at Rolls-Royce.
At the beginning of 1978 he found himself in Ludlow as design director of McConnel, an agricultural machinery manufacturer, a job in which he stayed for 15 years before re-organisation led to redundancy. At the age of 56 he hadn’t really expected to find another job, but went on to become a lecturer in Agricultural Engineering at Harper Adams University, which he combined with a successful self-employed consultancy business. In retirement he was able to volunteer his engineering skills and pass on his passion for racing cars to the students of Ludlow College, running their engineering club. With them he enjoyed the success of being national sprint champions at Goodwood with an electric sprint car and circuit racer.
Chris and Dorothy enjoyed many happy years living in Ludlow, where they combined their energy and skills to found the Fabric Trust for St Laurence’s church, raising more than £300,000. Chris cared devotedly for Dorothy as she became less mobile with multiple sclerosis, supporting her to remain active with her many charitable and community activities. He designed a beautiful new home for her where they entertained their family and friends, raised two beloved dogs (Sally and Daisy) and were delighted to welcome and spend time with their grandchildren. He was a real people person, great company and lots of fun.
In retirement, Chris was also able to fulfil his passion for vintage Rolls-Royce cars. Sir Henry the Silver Ghost was a restoration project, whereas the flashier Ada could actually be driven! Sadly Dorothy died in 2011 after celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary that year. It was cruel that Parkinson’s disease took a steady toll on Chris’ own mobility, but he never complained, instead facing his challenges with fortitude and a wry sense of humour. He had a strong moral compass and did much for the Ludlow community from campaigning and fund-raising to compassionate acts of kindness.
He made the pragmatic and unsentimental decision to downsize to a flat and remained involved with local groups – Probus, the Masons (including a spell as lodge master), and local Parkinson’s groups. He also gadded about Europe taking a portable mobility scooter when walking became difficult, and enjoyed theatre trips and concerts. Chris made another brilliant decision in making the ultimate downsize to residential care in 2020, intending to treat the home as a base but still get out and about, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and he was grounded. He managed to remain stoic and good-humoured about his situation and he delighted in family visits. Always determined to maintain his independence, he fell and broke his hip in July 2022, and never really recovered. He died very peacefully on 1 September 2022.
Chris is survived by his two sisters, his two proud daughters, Katie and Annabel, and his four grandchildren who adored him. Chris had a full life well lived and was loved and deeply admired by many. He is remembered with love by his large family and many friends as a good, kind, honourable and compassionate man; “one of the best”.
Words by Annabel and Katie Jeffery