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Tom Antony Bowker

West 1942-47

Tom was born in Sheffield in 1929 and died on 16 March 2022, shortly before his 93rd birthday. He recalled his Leys School days with much fondness – the companionship of the boys and the inspiration of the masters. Particularly memorable was the evacuation early in the Second World War when the Trumpington Road residential buildings were commandeered as an invalid hospital. Relocation to the Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochrie, Scotland was a time of many fond memories for Tom, including a change of diet, ie rabbit stew(!), but most significantly as a student of the infamous ‘Mr Chips’ (William Balgarnie) who rejoined the staff to teach Classics.

In 1947, he started his National Service and applied for the Royal Air Force, but because he was colour blind he was turned down. There was a silver lining: he volunteered to work with radar detection and was posted to Northern Ireland. He was working with the latest forms of radar technology which appealed to his understanding of physics and mechanics. From this experience, he considered following an engineering path but opted for Mathematics instead at Christ’s College, Cambridge University. It was in Cambridge, at the Methodist Church choir, Tom met his future wife, Jean, a fellow Mathematics undergraduate.

Tom was proud of his Sheffield heritage, his family’s history in the steel industry and their cutlery electro-plating business, but he was particularly inspired by his father’s work in the social clubs of the Methodist church. Post Second World War, Tom embraced social changes in the country and he decided to end the family association with the cutlery business to serve the development of young people in schools.

On leaving university, Tom and Jean became Maths teachers and he started his first post at Monmouth School. After this they went to Kingham Hill School, Oxfordshire, where he was a housemaster. Together he and Jean looked after the children from disadvantaged backgrounds who were boarding; supporting their development alongside bringing up their four children.

From there he was drawn to a position at Rydal School in North Wales to join Donald Hughes, an inspirational ex-Leysian English teacher, who was head teacher. After Rydal, the family moved to Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire, where he became Head of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. For his final position, his beliefs took him to Kettering School for Boys to lead it from a grammar to a comprehensive school. He wished to support a system that was fairer for all: keeping open options and not dividing people into failures or successes at 11.

As an educator, Tom was always interested in new ideas and took part in trialling the new Maths SMP curriculum in the 1960s. His educational philosophy was to start from where the student was and build from there. After retirement from Kettering School, he worked with the local authority advising schools in their changes to local management – he remained passionate about learning, making sure teachers and children were confident and comfortable to learn.

It was not only in his working life he chose to serve others but also in his leisure time. He was Chair of the Kettering MIND as he was committed to supporting people experiencing mental health challenges. Amongst his many commitments he gave generously of his time to driving patients to hospitals and into his 80s delivered meals on wheels to the housebound. Along with Jean, he supported the Lib Dems and he was a keen supporter of individual rights and causes and charities that supported the end of poverty and injustice.

Of recent political times he was disappointed by the UK’s exit from Europe. His experience of the impact of the Second World War led him to believe that to secure international peace, nations needed to promote collaboration and economic co-operation.

Alongside these considerable commitments, at the age of 27 Tom became a lay preacher and he led Methodist church services for over 60 years. He knew when to stop! His dedication to the Methodist church drove his view of the world and his dealings with others. After retirement, he continued preaching and passing on his knowledge and expertise in local preparation classes for new entrants to preaching, in the Northants circuits.

Typically, Tom also had a thirst to educate himself, for example, he himself gained an OU degree in Computing and, with the U3A, signed up for History, Literature and Music classes; as well as attending the annual Buxton Arts festival.

He is survived by his wife Jean, and his children: Charles (East, 1967-70), Julian (East, 1969-74), Jeremy and Catherine.

Words by Julian Bowker (East, 1969-74)