HE WAS 101 when he died, but Tom Philips (below) gave more than 93 years’ unbroken service to the choir in St Andrew’s, Backwell, in Bath & Wells diocese. He had joined as an eight-year-old treble at Pentecost in 1915. Not even the Second World War interrupted his record, because he was in a reserved occupation with the harbour railway in Bristol, and he never lived more than four miles from St Andrew’s.
In 2001, his achievement was recognised as a Guinness world record when he reached 86 years of singing, and it looks likely that his record still holds. The organist and choirmaster, Jerry King, says that his voice lasted to the end, and he continued to join the basses in the choir — one of the largest in the diocese — most Sunday mornings, singing the old hymns from memory when his sight began to fail.
As his father joined the choir in 1884 and sang for 75 years, between them father and son gave continual service for 122 years. Nor was Mr Philips just a choirman. The Rector, the Revd Simon Hill, says that he was proud to have been a bell-ringer for 60 years, much of that time as tower captain and steeplekeeper. “He has been a shining example of Christian joy and commitment,” Mr Hill says.
After Mr Philips’s wife, Edith, died in 1999, he continued to live on his own with the help of his daughter, Joyce, who lives near by.