George Thomas obituary

Other lives: Social worker who added housing to his responsibilities and strived to make services accessible to all

My husband, George Thomas, who has died aged 81, had a life packed with service to others, both paid and voluntary.

Born in Newcastle, one of six children of Jane (nee Lamonby), a cook, and Owen Thomas, a haulage contractor, George went to Westmoor county primary and Forest Hall secondary modern schools. After national service with the RAF, he qualified in social work at the universities of Durham and Sheffield.

Following work as an assistant housemaster at Aycliffe approved school in Co Durham, he moved to London, where he became leader of a social work team in the London county council, and later the borough of Tower Hamlets, where he and I met. We married in 1964. George then went to the Home Office as an inspector responsible for the training of social workers.

With the advent of social services departments, he joined the London borough of Brent as assistant director and then in 1971 the London borough of Harrow, where he was director of social services and housing. The inclusion of housing was beyond the remit of social services legislation, but George sought Home Office dispensation to be responsible for it, being aware of the relationship between the two disciplines. He also believed that there should be local offices throughout the borough “within pram-pushing distance” of people’s homes and accessible for people with disabilities.

After 12 years in post, he became chief executive of the Hong Kong Housing Society. Under his jurisdiction, numerous estates were built throughout the colony, all incorporating accessibility to social services on the principles that had applied in Harrow. He was the only expat in a large Chinese staff, but established lifelong friendships. It was time to return home, despite alluring salary offers, when George felt he had done the job he went to do.

Eventually we moved to Brighton, where our son Peter had settled following his degree at the University of Sussex. George was active in local churches, particularly the Methodist church, where he helped with children’s clubs, scouts and Cocaine Anonymous, providing gentle and courteous service. He was full of fun but cared deeply about injustices, and this was reflected in his support of Médecins sans Frontières, Crisis and CND. George was much loved and valued by family and friends.

He is survived by me, Peter and a grandson, Jake, and by his brother, David, and two sisters, Mavis and Jean.

Janie Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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