We have been informed of the sad news of the death of Alexander J Thomas, known as Sandy (SH 1958 – 1962). He had been diagnosed with lung cancer but died suddenly on 20th July 2018. Our sincere condolences and thoughts are with his wife, Lynne, and his family at this time. Both Sandy’s brothers, William and David, attended Wycliffe too.
Sandy’s family have kindly let us have his eulogy for publication on the website. Written by James Thomas, Sandy and Lynne’s eldest son:
Sandy Thomas embraced life. He was a warm, friendly man who always made the people he met feel that he was genuinely interested in them. He had a wonderful ability to communicate with people from all backgrounds. It is said of the millennial generation (that’s 20 something and early thirty somethings) that they are more into creating memories than acquiring material possessions then Sandy was inadvertently ahead of his time. The same could be said of the gin and tonic craze of the last few years.
Married to Lynne Webster for over 47 years, he was a loving and supportive father and a kindly and doting grandfather. He was a loyal and steadfast friend. His love of sport shone through in conversations and his interests but he also loved reading, completing crosswords and travelling. He was a good dancer, and a terrible joke teller; he either couldn’t remember the joke properly or started laughing at his own joke before he reached the punchline.
Alexander James Thomas was born in Edinburgh on March 18th 1945 to a Welsh father Cecil and Scottish mother Vera. The middle son of three brothers sitting between David and Bill. It’s not unusual for Scottish boys called Alexander to be known as Sandy and here in South Wales there are plenty of Thomases. The Thomas family moved down from Edinburgh to Penarth when Sandy was only a little boy, it’s fair to say that while there are a number of David and Bill Thomases, there was only one Sandy Thomas, well at least only one male Sandy Thomas. This meant those meeting Sandy would rarely forget him or his name. Educated first at Westbourne House School where he was head boy, as David and Bill both were, he then went onto Wycliffe School in Gloucestershire. Sandy was a popular boy who did well at school and played a wide range of sports from Rugby, Cricket, Golf, Tennis, Squash and sailing, laying the foundation of lifelong friendships with many of you that are here today.
On leaving school he entered articles as a Chartered Surveyor. But while he could handle the maths, his inablility to draw and visualize meant this was not the vocation for him. His attempts at drawing with the grandchildren were often limited by a version of a swan, made out of a two and cats that looked like squirrels maybe there was something subliminal there.
At the time of leaving Wycliffe a school friend asked him to join a fledgling Rugby team in Rhiwbina thus a lifelong affiliation with Rhiwbina Rugby club was born. When in their second season a fresh faced young man called Tony Davies joined the team a lifelong partnership in mischief was formed between the Penarth boy who played rugby for Rhiwbina and the Rhiwbina boy who played cricket for Penarth. From that inaugural season at age 17 he would play until 37 before a broken collar bone caused him to finally hang up his boots. He would then join the club committee serving as secretary for a number of years and was integral to Rhiwbina becoming members of the Welsh Rugby Union In 1977.
He would also start courting a young Rhiwbina girl Lynne Webster in 1968 and in 1971 they were married. They would be blessed with three children James, Richard and Suzy. Behind every good man you usually find a better woman and in Sandy’s case this was certainly true. While being very different personalities their strengths complemented each other,
On leaving Chartered Surveying Sandy worked with Atkin Trade Specialists in the Building trade and the running his own plastering business that while not a failure was also not progressing. At this point he joined Robinson David Timber & Builder’s Merchants. Here he made steady, if unspectacular progress rising, from a transport manager to sales and quickly established himself as the leading salesperson in South Wales as Robinson David was assimilated into Sabah Timber. Underpinning his progress were the traits he always displayed; his likeable personality, honesty and common sense meant customers could trust him and there was no side to Sandy: what you saw was what you got. If he made a mistake he would hold his hand up and admit as much and then do everything in his power to put it right, if he said he would deliver by a certain time or price he would.
His next step was to become a branch manager at Newport. This was an exciting challenge but also at that time with a sense of jeopardy, as the Newport branch had seen a number of managers come and go leading the managing director at that time to say if they are ever going to make remake of the film the Dirty Dozen they need look no further than the Newport branch for the cast.
Yet again though Sandy proved himself more than capable to the challenge; impressing the hard-nosed members of the yard by mucking in at busy times and stacking wood in the saw mill when it was needed. Allied to his customer handling abilities, his new found managerial skills and his always personal nature, along with reveling the decision making aspect of the role, he turned around the fortunes of the branch and was rewarded with a return to the Cardiff branch this time as manager. He would remain there as manager for many years.
He was always supportive of his children during our school years and he took a great deal of enjoyment from our successes on the sports fields especially the rugby sevens where both Richard and myself had tournament successes but also in Watching Suzy smash the then hockey goal scoring record at Brecon.
When he was 62 he received life changing news from the doctor he had cancer of the bladder. My father had always had a fatalistic approach to life, what will be will be, but a lifetime of heavy smoking had caught up with him. Yet Sandy tackled this set back with great determination. He stopped smoking, he undertook the Chemo therapy and had an operation to remove his bladder and prostrate. The Operation was not wholly successful and a nick in the bowel almost ended his life but a further operation repaired the bowel and slowly he recovered. He handled the adjustment to a stoma with great dignity and when I asked him if it ever bothered him his answer was typical “it’s better than the other option”.
The near death experience only heightened his wish to make the most of his time left and in those ten years he and Lynne travelled a lot. Either across Europe in their camper van or to destinations further afield. Spending time with their grandchildren, Joey and Kathleen, Richard and Linda’s two living in Cheshire or helping out in the summer holidays in the Netherlands with mine and Suzanne’s three Tess, Kuba and Nia or closer to home with the youngest grandchildren the enthusiastic George and apple of his eye and partner in biscuit eating Henry.
Ever since I can remember people have often remarked that I look just like my father but in many ways it goes a lot deeper than that. We have the same love of sport, our brains work in the same quirky way, very good at remembering dates, people, events and random trivia from the past, not so good at remembering upcoming events, birthdays anniversaries etc. We tend to live in the present, remembering the past but oblivious to what the future will hold.
I was asked if I would have had the opportunity to have one last conversation with him before he went what would I have done or said but to be honest I think the conversation would have moved quickly on from emotions and what ifs, to a Welshman winning the Tour de France or Sam Warburton’s retirement or the inconsistency of the England test cricket side. I am sure all of you here have a least one fond Sandy memory, I look forward to hearing them or as many as time allows at the recreation club where Sandy spent so many Saturday afternoons. It’s a pity the old man won’t be there, he would have loved it.