Dr Thomas R B Mitchell

DR Tom Mitchell, who passed away after surgery on November 9, 2019, aged 78, was the elder son of the late Major Norman Mitchell and 

Mrs Mele Mitchell of the Quoile, Downpatrick. 

Tom was born in Cheshire in 1941 but moved to Belfast in 1946 and then Downpatrick in 1949 when his father was appointed as County Planning Officer for Down.

He went to Down High School, where he was Head Boy and then on to Queen’s University after winning a Foundation Entrance Scholarship. He stayed in Queen’s to complete a PhD in chemistry and went on to become a senior lecturer, before retiring in 1993 to Warwickshire.

While he was at Queen’s he met and married Valerie Neely, a young law student who went on to become a senior lecturer in the Law Faculty at Queen’s.

Tom spent some time at the Australia National University in Canberra as part of a long running research collaboration and Valerie accompanied him there on two year-long sabbaticals. He also spent six months teaching at the University of the South Pacific.

Tom had a great love of travelling, with his favourite destination being the Caribbean, where he would visit his cousin, Alice, and her family. After retirement Tom and his wife continued travelling, including cruises on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tom was a keen sportsman and played rugby, squash, badminton and golf at various stages of his life. It was with great satisfaction that he attended Twickenham in 2018 with his brother to see Ireland beat England on St Patrick’s Day to win the Grand Slam.

But his real passion was cricket, ever since his aunt in Dublin gave him a cricket bat for his third birthday. He played for various university staff sides in Queen’s, Canberra and Coventry, continuing well into his late fifties. It was no coincidence that he spent his long sabbaticals in countries that took cricket seriously.

He loved the countryside and while living in Downpatrick he went walking and camping in the Mournes with older members of the local scout group. For a time, they had no Scout Leader, but the District Commissioner allowed them to run the troop themselves, giving them more freedom than they otherwise might have had.

He was keen sailor and along with Valerie and his father-in-law, the late Billy Neely, they owned several boats, from a GP14 to a small cabin yacht which they sailed on Strangford from Quoile Yacht Club. He had a keen interest in birdwatching and was a very competent bird photographer.

Tom had a quiet, Christian belief which he lived out in his everyday life. He attended church regularly and took a full part in the life and worship of the church.

He was a church warden at St John’s Church, Malone, and then at the church of St Peter, Bourton in Dunsmore, where he also was treasurer for 21 years. He read the lesson on the last Sunday before he went in for his operation. 

Tom had a very strong sense of fairness. He loved talking to people of all backgrounds and though academically gifted, he would take time to help those who struggled with their education. He also believed in giving something back to the community.

He got involved in committees only if they did something, if they made a difference. He was for some years a member of the Quoile Yacht Club committee and had a spell as commodore. On his watch, he prodded a dilatory Ministry of Agriculture into finally signing off a long-promised lease for the land for the club’s premises.

In Warwickshire, he sat on the local Parish Council. There, he helped manoeuvre the local Borough Council into funding a local flood relief scheme, at a fraction of the cost originally quoted. He was well liked and regarded in his local community.

Tom and Valerie were unable to have children, but they took a keen interest in his nephew, Ewan, and nieces Mairi and Eileen, including allowing unlimited use of their Devon holiday home, encouraging them in their education, remembering their birthdays, and being an extra granddad to their children. 

Tom’s funeral was conducted by the Rev Alison Massey at the Church of St Peter in Bourton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry, on November 29. The underlying theme of the many condolences received by the family, in many cases explicitly, was that Tom was “a true gentleman”.

Dr Mitchell is survived by his wife, Valerie, his brother, John, and family, and his cousin, Alice. He is greatly missed by them all.