Obituary Thomas William Lewis (1932-2019)31st January 2019
The funeral will take place on Tuesday 5th February at 1.15pm at Beckenham Crematorium, Elmers End Road, BR3 4TD
Obituary Thomas William Lewis (1932-2019)
Thomas William Lewis (1932-2019) was born on the Downham Estate in 1932. His experiences of class ridden Britain and the deprivation of 1930s depression shaped his Socialist principles and inspired his lifelong fight for freedom, equality and justice. “As a young boy he once said to me you are an only son but any man irrespective of his race, creed or religion can be your brother “
Although he came from a family of professional soldiers, he was first and foremost a devoted soldier of the Trade Union movement and a loyal member of Vauxhall Labour Party for 60 years.
“He once said to me that you have never lived unless you have fought a worthwhile cause “
As secretary of the National Union of Public Employees ( NUPE ), nobody fought harder for worthwhile causes and I am sure his brother and comrade Hugh Tessier could tell many a battle story .
As a boy he was evacuated 3 times during WW2 with very mixed experiences . The 1st evacuation to Folkestone was rushed due to a real fear that the Nazis would employ poison mustard gas and consequently little 7 year old Tom was lost for 2 weeks although happily rediscovered by his beloved older brother Harry Lewis who was stationed near-by at Shorncliffe army camp who often recalled the happy reunion.
The 2nd evacuation to Somerset during the 1940/41 London blitz was very traumatic, he was bullied and starved by the family with whom he was billeted. He often recalled sitting on the bridge at Misterton railway station every day for months hoping his mother would come to collect him. It left a lasting impression although it never made him bitter, quite the opposite, it inspired a life-long love & commitment to helping young people and those in need.
The final evacuation to Kingswear , South Devon in 1943 had a happy ending, the elderly couple who took him in instantly fell in love with the handsome young boy and he with them .
Kingswear became a big part of his life and later for us as his children, the family visited the Battershall’s every year until Harry’s passing in 1983 . I can only describe our family holidays to Kingswear as idyllic and we loved Harry like a grandfather .
These childhood experiences of love and cruelty in his early years arguably inspired his greatest humanitarian work in the 1960s & 70s when encouraged by the rev sister Lily, he founded the The Friends of Vauxhall Methodist Church.
There were always 12 members symbolically representing the 12 disciples and included my mother Betty Lewis , Sheila Gates and members of the Madigan , Davey , Lillico , and Waghorne families .
At weekends, as young people, they gave up their precious free time to do charitable works with both the young and the elderly . There were memorable trips to the seaside for Dr Barbados orphans and the local young and elderly of Lambeth & Vauxhall including Tinworth House .
He was intelligent , very generous, quick witted and a talented and passionate orator, all of which made him a natural leader .
He was known for his generosity to family and friends, he was always the first to buy a round of drinks at the bar and he loved to organise parties and was a keen dancer .
He was highly educated although predominantly self-taught, his early formal education totally disrupted by WW2. Undeterred, he attended evening classes well into his mid-20s gaining an HND in Geology & Metallurgy.
As a boy the house was full of books, he was an avid reader and nurtured in all his children and grandchildren, a strong interest in both education & politics.
At the age of only 7, I was bought a chemistry set and a love of the sciences was nurtured during regular home science lessons, trips to Brunel University science labs as well as the science museum.
In the 6th form I wanted to accept an offer of Chemistry & Economics at the Science Museum but father overruled me stating that during a period of high unemployment, Pharmacy would be a wiser choice and he was later proved right when it later lead to the foundation of A1 Pharmaceuticals.
He inspired confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. While on holiday in Devon during the 1960s, he encouraged the collection of discarded bottles on the beaches of Torbay for the returnable refunds while in Lambeth I was encouraged to collect scrap metal and negotiated alone my first deal with local scrap dealers in 1968 at the age only 8.
A1 Pharmaceuticals was founded with my wife Carmen in 1986 and after a very hard early struggle, the opportunity to import the first Branded medical device came in 1989 but I could not convince our Barclays Bank manager to agree a loan or overdraft. I once again turned to my father who I convinced to loan me his life savings of £35,000. I vividly remember him psychically shaking at the building society. I was very proud of my father’s support, he was not a businessman, but he sensed it was a critical moment and his act of courage at this critical moment was key to our success and he was my life long guide and mentor.
Let’s just say that the deprivation of his mother’s love had a profound effect and he was often happiest in the company of women and maybe for a family man, he sometimes loved the ladies a little too much although even great men have their weaknesses .
One Sunday, I came home from sports training and he said, “Gary have you got a girlfriend?”
I said, “nobody special” and he replied, “there is this beautiful girl called Carmen at the church you must meet her.” The Vicar Dr Newby thought I had rediscovered Christianity and wanted to rebaptise me, I didn’t have the courage to say, “I am only here for the girl”. So my father even introduced me to my future wife and co-founder of A1 Pharmaceuticals, his eye for the lady’s paying off on this occasion.
Although he came from a family of professional soldiers, he largely took up the mantle of chairman of Bromley British Legion because there was at the time, nobody else with the skills to do the job, so in his mid-80s he once again took on a voluntary leadership role.
His father had lost his brother in Flanders in WW1 & had served twice in the Royal West Surrey’s 1920-22 & 1939-45. His brother Harry Lewis (Royal Engineers 1938-46) had suffered torture disease and starvation as a Japanese POW, while his brother Stephen was D-Day + 1 WIA in Normandy and later one of the first British soldiers into Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.
They were all traumatised by their wartime experiences but my father never had any animosity toward the German or Japanese people and I was encouraged to build bridges with both countries in my later business career.
As an octogenarian he once again took up a voluntary leadership role as chairman of Bromley British Legion, he had his own unique way focusing on peace & reconciliation as well as educating the young people on the pity and waste of war.
In the autumn of his life, he was happiest when surrounded by his many grandchildren and great children with whom he spent as much time as possible. He loved them all dearly and the house was full of their photographs. I am sure can imagine the huge pride I had of being the only paternal son of Thomas William Lewis. Even as a very young boy I was never jealous of sharing him with the world he was too special to keep him to ourselves
My father and I always preferred the Saxon farewell,
so It’s never goodbye dear father, it’s until we meet again.
Family flowers only, Donations to British Heart Foundation given in his memory would be greatly appreciated https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thomaswilliamlewis« Back to News