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- Wilson, Tim
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James Elder wrote the following obituary for the club website and members' email list:
Timothy Peter Wilson has died at the age of 88, after a short illness.
Tim grew up in Hadleigh, in the southern part of Suffolk, where his family were grain merchants, millers and malters.
Having learned to row while at school at Radley, he joined Thames in 1948. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his relative shortness for an oarsman, he was often at bow. Having started in the Thames Cup eight in this position in 1949, in 1950 he moved up to the Grand eight, despite weighing only 9st 7lb. In 1951 he was bow and steersman in a Wyfold four; in 1953 he was back in the Thames Cup eight, this time at 2.
Although studying at Oxford had been envisaged, he did not take this route, instead taking articles and qualifying as a chartered accountant. He then went to work for Imperial Chemical Industries, where he was to spend his whole career. Eventually he would become the chief internal auditor, under the chairmanship of Sir John Harvey-Jones.
In the 1950s, his work took him to the North East of England, for a spell at ICI’s large plant at Billingham, County Durham. Tim was involved in internal audit, and would later tell stories of one man who took home a roll of platinum gauze to use as chicken wire having no idea of its value, and another who aroused suspicion at the gates when his bicycle fell over and he was unable to lift it up again – it was found that he’d filled the frame with valuable metals that he was attempting to smuggle out. It was while in County Durham that Tim joined his second club, Tees RC, where he later became a vice-president and had a boat named after him.
By this time he had also taken up his other sporting love, skiing. He went annually with friends to Lech am Arlberg in Austria, until quite late in life. John McConnell recounts that after one winter snowfall, Tim was seen skiing down Putney Hill to get to the clubhouse.
On his return to London from Billingham, Tim again settled in Putney and renewed his connection with Thames. His last time in a racing boat may well have been the sponsored row he undertook in the mid-1970s to fundraise for the club, when he and Jean Rankine took a double scull to Richmond Lock and back. By that time he was on his way to becoming a vital, if idiosyncratic, part of the fabric of the club.
Tim served as an unpaid club bookkeeper for at least forty years, including a stint as the Hon. Treasurer in the early 1980s. Sharp-eyed, and always keeping abreast of changes in tax law, he saved the club a vast amount of money both in terms of his volunteer labour and in errors corrected, frauds detected, tax advantages exploited, efficiencies enforced and debts chased down.
One oft-repeated story, which may or may not be apocryphal, has him taking a pair of scissors and a stock of TRC ties into the Stewards Enclosure at Henley. The scissors were to cut off the tie of anyone he spotted whose subscription had lapsed; the new tie was to be proffered for sale to the victim after his arrears were paid.
More significant were Tim’s efforts which ensured that a large amount of tax was recovered on the construction and fit-out of the Burrough Building in 2005, an irony given his deep suspicion of the need for a new gym. He was also a familiar face to the staff of Barclays Putney as he banked the weekly bar takings – a potentially hazardous task on those days after Head of the River parties when he was carrying over £10,000 in cash with him on his bike.
Tim also became the guardian – first with Geoffrey Page, and later on his own – of the club’s archives, pictures, trophies and memorabilia. While his methods were sometimes unorthodox, he helped ensure that this invaluable collection survived the ravages of time. He additionally provided a living link to the ‘good old days’ of the club, with a fund of stories and observations.
In 2010, in recognition of his many services to Thames, he was appointed a vice-president. Additionally two coxless fours were named after him. The second ‘Tim Wilson’ won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup in 2016 and is still in use as the top men’s four.
Tim was a shy man and cultivated a gruff, irascible manner. This became more pronounced in his old age as he was troubled by constant pain in his legs. Moreover he did not, as he would admit, especially like change and sometimes found himself out of tune with the modern world. He had never, for example, entirely accepted that the club was right to cease entering crews for the Grand in the 1960s, or to begin admitting women in the 1970s. However there was also undoubtedly an element of exaggeration for effect in his grumbles about such things.
In any case, for those who got to know him better, he was – as one of his clubmates put it -‘crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside’. He could be very entertaining company as he cast his witty and sceptical eye over the state of the club, the country and the world at large – often with the assistance of a clipping from the Daily Telegraph that had caught his eye.
Tim had in recent years suffered from a number of health problems and had, understandably, been upset by the thinning of the ranks of his Sunday morning ‘half pint club’ of drinking friends (notably Bernard Churcher, David Fairbairn, Eric Sjoeberg, David King, Bryan Gauld and Andrew Paterson). However he was still down at the clubhouse almost daily, until very recently.
Tim is survived by a number of cousins, nephews and nieces.
Richard Wilson gave this eulogy at his funeral:
Tim Wilson was a character. He was determined often to the point of cussedness, energetic in his pursuit of financial veracity, loyal to those he valued, and devoted to his extended family while simultaneously able to be brusque with them. He found solace in numbers rather than words, his ability to express emotional warmth perhaps compromised by a somewhat solitary childhood, challenged by ill health.
He was born in a reputedly haunted house in Burstall, a small village just outside of Ipswich, at 7am on a Monday morning – in typical Tim fashion, just in time to start the working week! His forebears on his father’s side were grain merchants, millers and maltsters based in the town of Hadleigh where the family firm of Wilsons Corn & Milling had existed for a hundred and fifty years: Tim would act as Company Secretary for many more. His father Philip was a war hero in WW1, seeing action at Tyne Cott and winning the Military Cross, while his mother Muriel Martin, known as Kip, was bookish and according to some who knew her, a little withdrawn, perhaps not helped by the loss of an unborn baby sometime after Tim’s birth – he would remain an only child.
When just 2 years old, and following the discovery of a cancerous growth, Tim’s left eye was removed, and six weeks later he would receive his first artificial eye. As if this was not traumatic enough for a young lad and his family, just a few months later he was diagnosed with Pink Disease, linked with mercury poisoning, which according to family legend led to a childhood diet featuring inordinate amounts of raw liver.
Sickly and always small for his age, maybe Tim felt he was not the hero his father might have expected. Perhaps he was never the centre of attention in ways he wished to be, though he did have an important role in extended family plays: at the conclusion of these entertainments laid on by his cousins, he would turn away from the audience, bend over, and display the words “The End” emblazoned on his backside.
But if Tim’s early medical setbacks somehow imply that he was a weakling as an adult, this was far from the case. In fact outside of his working life it would be sport that defined him. He was an accomplished squash player and marksman (remarkable for someone with only one eye), and a talented skier, both downhill and cross-country. He would go to Austria each year to ski with friends until well into his retirement.
However it was rowing that would become the central activity in his life. Early in the Second World War he had been evacuated to Wales, but at the age of 13 in 1943 he progressed to Radley, which was where he first took up the sport. Soon after leaving school he joined Thames Rowing Club. Despite his short stature, he achieved a level of proficiency and success that between 1949 and 1953 saw him rowing in the Wyfold four, the Thames Cup eight, and even the Grand eight despite weighing only 9st 7lb.
At work, Tim was virtually a one-company man. He didn’t go to university but instead qualified as a chartered accountant, becoming a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1955. After a short stint at a firm in Maidstone, in 1957 he joined the agricultural division of ICI, perhaps one of the most successful British companies of the time, where he would spend almost his entire career. He was first based at the firm’s large plant in Billingham, County Durham, and during his 12 years there, he became a fixture in the Tees Rowing Club, where he became a vice-president and had a boat named after him.
In 1969, the year after his father died, he was relocated by ICI to Millbank in London to work in their pensions division where his skills in forecast costing were particularly appreciated. That same year he purchased the flat in Putney where he would live for the next 50 years. His mother was now in Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk, and Tim would be a regular visitor to the county of his birth, buying a house in Hadleigh after she passed away in the 1980’s primarily as somewhere to store her furniture. In May 1984, after 27 years, he left ICI when the pensions department was restructured and moved out of London. He soon found a new job as Chief Accountant at the Social Workers Pension Fund (which would later become The Pensions Trust) but after just a couple of years, at the age of 57, he retired and for the next thirty years his life was centered on Putney and Thames Rowing Club.
His final appearance in a racing boat may have been as far back as the mid-1970s, but for over forty years he would work at the Club as an unpaid consultant accountant not because he had to (though he would often grumble that they couldn’t manage without him) but because he wanted to. The Club provided a social centre and a project that gave his life meaning. He would be there in all weathers – on one particularly snowy day he was seen outside his flat clipping on a pair of skies before heading off down Putney Hill! For a time he was Honorary Treasurer, and in 2010 he was appointed a vice-president in recognition of his service to the Club. Two coxless fours were named after him: the second “Tim Wilson” won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup in 2016 and apparently is still in use as one of the Club’s top men’s fours.
A hoarder by nature, over the years his Putney flat became a veritable mountain range of paperwork, every conceivable surface covered with letters going back forty years or more, still in their envelopes, usually annotated with his response, often verbatim. In the 1980’s I worked in New Zealand for some weeks, and after I returned I put him in touch with various Wilson relatives living there. Thereafter he maintained a regular and long-term correspondence with them, passing on family news and his thoughts on the parlous state of the world. He steadfastly refused to have a television, and the suggestion that a computer might enhance his genealogical researches would send him into paroxysms of grumpiness! A request for Tim to attend a fundraising dinner in aid of a new concert hall and sports hall at Radley was met with the response: “Regret, am not inclined to contribute to a new world.”
Looking through these papers over the past few weeks, it was somewhat disconcerting to find letters in my own hand spanning many decades. I also unearthed this note from Tiny Rowland, the business tycoon who transformed Lonrho but not always in ways that pleased this particular shareholder from Putney. Rowland’s letter says: “Dear Mr Wilson, it was kind of you to write to me about Lonrho and it gave me much pleasure as it is rare to receive a satisfactory insult…” Despite this, he goes on to invite Tim to visit him and his wife at his home.
Tim maintained an allotment until his mid-eighties and he protected his independence until the very end. He was a complex man who did not suffer fools gladly. He was old fashioned, where that term might mean sacrificing political correctness on an altar of irascibility. And yet… Perhaps to his own surprise, Tim also had a way of attracting friendships and of eliciting respect and even warmth. He had a prodigious memory, an enjoyment of fine ale, and he knew how to be funny, and these attributes could combine to make him good company.
In recent years his health began to fail, but he worked as hard as he could to reject offers of care. He notably refused medical attention even after falling off his bicycle and being found marooned in a hedge, as he was much more focused on getting to the bank! Leg ulcers plagued him, and in the last weeks of his life they finally prevented him from getting on his bike to reach his beloved Rowing Club.
A fall at home led to him spending his final few days in Kingston Hospital where, of course, he received superb care. An exceptional accountant to the very end, and perhaps in an unconscious attempt to aid his executors, he died half an hour or so before the end of the tax year – but how typical of those troublesome doctors to wreck things by not registering his death until after midnight!
In St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh a beautiful stained-glass window emblazoned with the text “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection” commemorates Tim’s great grandparents. Tim was hugely proud of this window, as he was proud of his family. His ashes will be interred in the family plot in the churchyard, just a few miles from the place where he was born.