Teddy Smith obituary

Other lives: Mechanic who served with the Royal Tank Regiment during the second world war

The life of my father, Teddy Smith, who has died aged 92, was in many ways a model of how the British social and educational system wastes talent.

Born in Sunderland, the eldest boy of five children, he was largely brought up by his mother, Doris (nee Johnstone), his father, Edward, being a merchant seaman. Although Teddy passed the exams to go to grammar school, his parents could not afford to buy the uniform, nor for him not to work. Instead, he went to technical school and then, aged 16, to work in a laundry as a roundsman.

His life was rescued, in a way, by his being conscripted during the second world war in 1944. He was taught a trade (mechanic), introduced to a dentist (he had fillings that stayed with him into his 80s) and saw a bit of the world. He was in Egypt and northern Italy with the Royal Tank Regiment, and was entranced by both, although luckily he was too late to see any fighting.

Ingenious and creative, he was a marvellous mechanic. “This man can fix anything,” his demob record said “and he is invariably cheerful.”

After the war ended, he became a heavy goods mechanic for Flowers Brewery (later Whitbread) and for the North Eastern Electricity Board. His wiry frame belied his physical strength; but he was a gentle man and, as many people have said to me, also a gentleman. From boyhood, his fastidiousness had been a family joke, and on Friday nights he would tie plastic bags round his hands to sweat the week’s oil and grease from his skin. He retired in 1990.

He was a voracious reader who loved knowledge, but macular degeneration took away that pleasure, together with his hobby of watercolour painting. He disliked conflict, and always tried to find the best in people. He hoped, all his life, that his obvious talent, decency and goodwill would give him a fair chance at advancement.

Only in retirement did he realise how stacked against him the odds had been. But he vigorously supported my education and his pride in my career as an academic gave him enormous pleasure.

He met my mother, Phyllis (nee Bevin) in the playground aged nine. He always knew “she was the one”, although it was almost 20 years before they married. He was patient and sociable, she vivacious and shy, but they were somehow made for one another. Her death earlier this year left him bereft.

He is survived by me, and by his sister, Nancy, and brother, Alan.

Lesley Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Reay Atkinson obituary
Other lives: Senior civil servant who became regional director ot Department of Trade and Industry in Newcastle

Alastair Balls

20, Mar, 2018 @6:23 PM

Article image
Tony Knipe obituary
Other lives: Painter who taught art and curated a number of exhibitions in the north-east of England

Peter Davies

12, Jun, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
Birtley Aris obituary
Other lives: Artist whose drawings portrayed a beguiling vision of industrial-pastoral England

Sean O'Brien

25, Mar, 2021 @10:55 AM

Article image
Teddy Gold obituary
Other lives: Community activist who introduced revolutionary new ideas in youth work

Michael Swerdlow

26, Feb, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Joe Dyrlaga obituary
Other lives: Polish refugee who arrived in Britain after the second world war and became an honorary Yorkshireman

Anne Dyrlaga

29, Mar, 2018 @1:51 PM

Article image
Andrew Finch obituary
Other lives: Teacher who was pioneering advocate of comprehensive education

Simon Finch

22, Mar, 2018 @5:38 PM

Article image
Sabina Miller obituary
Other lives: Educator and Holocaust survivor determined to share the story of her life

Vikki Miller

06, May, 2018 @5:05 PM

Article image
Walter Lloyd obituary
Other lives: Countryman who played a key role in the revival of traditional outdoor skills in the Lake District

Karen Lloyd

12, Mar, 2018 @6:29 PM

Article image
Anya Berger obituary
Other lives: intellectual and linguist who played a personal part in many events and movements of the 20th century

Sonia Lambert

06, Mar, 2018 @5:11 PM

Article image
David Bailin obituary
Other lives: Physicist who was ahead of his time

Alex Bailin

22, Apr, 2018 @4:52 PM