Tom Hunt obituary

In many respects the life of my stepfather, Tom Hunt, who has died aged 95, was defined by the second world war. Having left school aged 14 without qualifications, he received an education through his RAF service, which enabled him to become a teacher of both children and adult learners such as himself. He was also an authoritative historian of wartime, and had a compendious knowledge of the period that stretched beyond merely serving during it.

Born in Dagenham, east London (which was then in Essex), to Thomas Hunt, who made tennis racquets, and Florence (nee Tomey), Tom left school aged 14. He began a low-wage, demanding job in a printing works in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was soon exposed to the Blitz.

Called up in 1943, he served as a mechanic at RAF Burn, near Selby in Yorkshire, Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), and in the West Midlands, where, as a Labour and Co-op member, he celebrated the election results with his colleagues in July 1945. After the war, he remained with the RAF, stationed in Egypt, until 1947, then gained a teacher training qualification at a facility in the grounds of the Wimpole estate in Cambridgeshire.

He taught at several London schools, including Quintin Kynaston in St John’s Wood (now a Harris academy), and then went into adult education, teaching at South Bank Adult Institute. He retired from full-time teaching in 1979, but held adult evening classes at Holbeach school in Catford, south London, for a year in the mid-1980s.

Years after his marriage ended in divorce in 1963, Tom assumed the role of stepfather to me upon meeting my mother, Jane McGee (nee Youd), also a teacher, in 1978. He retained close contact with his daughter from his marriage, Susan, regularly visiting her in Australia.

In 1985 we moved to Chard, in Somerset, where my mother had obtained a teaching job, and where Tom became a stalwart local Labour party member; in 2009, he stood as a Labour candidate in local council elections.

Generous to a fault, Tom also seemed ageless: in his late 80s, he was doing the Mobot dance at my wedding party in 2012 following Mo Farah’s Olympics triumphs. He also treasured self-education, taking Spanish classes for nearly 40 years after retiring, alongside his study of the second world war.

Only in the last few years did Tom’s aura of invincibility fade: although he succumbed to Covid-19 after a short residency in a care home, he had also been suffering from dementia diagnosed in 2017, shortly after he had broken his hip. Even then his wicked sense of humour remained intact: asked in hospital by my mother whether he was practising his exercises where he had to stand up, he replied: “Only when I hear the national anthem.” A natural raconteur who cherished the art of good timing, he died just days before the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

He is survived by Jane, Susan and me, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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