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27 February 2015

The Revd John Simpson writes:

THE Revd Tom Hawthorn died on 15 December, one day before his 96 birthday. His last 30 years were spent in Lowestoft, where he was very busy conducting services in the many churches in the area.

He had been ordained deacon and priest in Mexico when he was 64, and, after a short time serving the Church there, he retired to East Anglia and served as a very dedicated assistant chaplain at HM Prison Blundeston. His fluency in Spanish helped him to establish very good relationships with some of the inmates there.

Tom, known as "Rusty" to some members of his family, was the eldest of three children, who at a very early age were separated because of the break-up of their parents' marriage. The girls were adopted, and were never to see each other again. Tom stayed with his father, who was mining tin in Bolivia, where his playmates included Quechua Indians. He was sent, on his own, by ship to England, and thus to Watchet in Somerset for his schooling.

He became a civil engineer, and graduated at the age of 30 from Imperial College, London, with a B.Sc. Having married Enid, he worked in many locations around the world, and was involved in Venezuela with the lighting of Lake Maracaibo. During the Second World War, Tom served as a pilot in the RAF, and flew Hurricanes. Only three of the men who flew with Tom survive. When he was taken to RAF Coningsby in 2012, he again sat in the cockpit of a plane of the WW2 Memorial Flight. He had last done so 72 years pre-viously.

He was a prisoner of war in camps in Poland and Germany for three years. He was decorated for his war service, but rarely spoke of his experiences. With his second wife, Valerie, Tom threw himself into social and church life in Suffolk, and was awarded the MBE in 1991 for services to the community. He was never reunited with the family from whom he had been separated, and it was only after his sister's death that it was discovered that for seven years, until she died in 1991, they had lived only a few miles apart.

Tom was much involved with military organisations, and serving as a chaplain to various bodies, most notably to the Royal British Legion. The clergy of Lowestoft were quite content to leave the parade and memorial services in Tom's hands. He was, one might say, a true gentleman of strong faith and courage. He leaves Valerie, to whom he was married for 40 years, a son and daughter, and nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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