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Obituary: Thomas Chandler – Passionate gardener and school governors chair who built his own TV to watch the coronation

TRIBUTES have been paid to “gentleman” Thomas Chandler, a mainstay of many organisations who spent 10 years as Highcliffe School’s chair of governors.

Thomas, who was known as Tom and has died aged 93, was a passionate gardener who was instrumental in Highcliffe’s flower displays netting Dorset Village in Bloom accolades and kept the town’s historical association alive.

Thomas Chandler (46009772)
Thomas Chandler (46009772)

He was also involved in developing the world-beating British Army field phone system which is widely thought to have provided the technology for today’s mobile phone network.

His family praised his memory, saying: “Tom has been described as a true gentleman who was ‘one of the good guys’ and ‘courteous, charming, knowledgeable and competent’.”

Tom’s association with Highcliffe began when he and wife Louise moved to the town in 1981 because of his work for Plessy developing the army tactical communications project, Ptarmigan, which was top secret at the time.

Having previously worked for TMC and GEC, Tom played a key role in the project design, which triumphed over the American and French competition, until his retirement in 1989.

In later life Tom and Louise indulged their passion for travelling, which had been sparked in the early 1960s when, after coming second in a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes competition, Tom opted for the £600 prize over a new Mini and used it to purchase an Austin Cambridge car.

He drove the vehicle on a family tour of Holland, and they were bitten by the travel bug. They later went to Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France, Wales, Cornwall and Scotland towing a caravan.

Tom and Louise also travelled further afield and visited their daughter, whose husband was a diplomat. Closer to home they were keen ramblers and members of Highcliffe Community Association, with Tom leading many of the walks, and spending time as a committee member and president.

Always generous with his time and skills, Tom served on the PPG committee at Highcliffe Health Centre until his death, successfully petitioning to have Bournemouth hospital bus stops moved. Tom and Louise also volunteered for Friends in Need, ferrying locals to appointments.

Always very practical – Tom built his own television set to watch the 1952 coronation – he taught his children to decorate, build walls and lay paving and was proud that two grandsons became engineers.

Tom and Louise loved receiving visits from their children and grandchildren, spending many happy hours on Highcliffe and Friar’s Cliff beaches and crabbing at Mudeford quay.

His other major love was his garden. Tom won many prizes for his orchids and flower arranging, organised visits to gardens around the country and founded annual competitions in two local primary schools.

Tom also looked after the flower beds around Highcliffe centre for many years, was instrumental in the village winning Dorset Village in Bloom, and filled many roles on the Highcliffe Horticultural Society Committee, including show secretary, vice-president and president.

Keen on history, he kept the Highcliffe History Association going, booking and introducing speakers and even planning meetings into 2022.

During his decade-long stint as chair of governors at Highcliffe School he helped establish its sixth form.

Tom had a simple philosophy of life, espousing hard work as the key to success and happiness – which he developed during his working class upbringing in south-east London.

Tom was 12 when the Second World War began and ran two allotments to feed the family after his father was called up. He had a lucky escape one day when a poplar tree saved his life by deflecting the trajectory of a doodlebug bomb.

He also had grim memories including witnessing the massacre at a school in Hither Green, London, when a Messerschmitt machine-gunned the playground.

As a youngster he was a talented footballer and cricketer. His apprenticeship exempted him from national service and through night school he qualified as a chartered electrical engineer. At this time he met Louise who, they discovered, had grown up in the parallel street.

In their courting years and honeymoon they went camping on their bicycles and a tandem over southern England. They had three children: Philip, Martin and Julia. Tom also leaves grandchildren Melanie, Julian, Fahran, Callum, Greg, Zoe, Helen, Adam and Paul, and three great-grandchildren.

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