London Welsh is extremely sad to announce that long-time Supporter Member and Ex-Chairman Dr ‘Ken’ Thomas passed away on Friday the 16th of July, at St Thomas’s Hospital after a long battle with severE illness over the last year.
Ken was born in Tumble in the Gwendraeth valley and after attending Carmarthen Grammar School he studied medicine at Kings College Hospital, London eventually becoming a GP in the Old Kent Road where he practised for some 42 years.
Whilst Ken was a supporter of all things Welsh in London Ken was an integral part of the fabric of London Welsh Rugby Club. As our medical officer for over 20 years, many players who took the field in the time that Ken served were grateful for his assistance. Ken went on to become club Chairman in 1982 – 1984 and being was honoured for his outstanding service and support by being awarded a life membership in 2002.
Ken will be laid to rest on Monday the 2nd of August 2021.
Unfortunately for all those wishing to show their respects numbers are strictly limited at the Crematorium so we would ask you not to attend if you have not had a direct invite.
If you do wish to show your respects in the way of a tribute to Ken then the family have asked that there are no flowers but instead a contribution be made in Ken’s memory to the St. Christopher’s Hospice, Teenage Cancer Trust.
Our sincerest condolences go to Margaret and the family.
Chairman London Welsh Rugby Club
This is the beautiful Eulogy given by Edgar Thomas
I consider it very much a privilege to be asked by the family to deliver this eulogy for Ken who has been a valued friend for nearly 60 years. Our sympathies go to his immediate family: his wife Margaret. sons Richard and Peter, daughter in law Linda and the grandchildren, Bethan, Anna and Andrew. We share your grief and loss. Richard is following his father’s profession in N Z and is unable to be present. But he spent a couple of months with Ken and Margaret earlier in the year. Ken also told me that between them, they managed to clear out his stock of vintage port!
Ken, or Dr Ken as he was universally known, was born in Tumble in the Gwendraeth valley, Carmarthenshire. It is a coal mining valley with a rich culture in scholarship, literature, music and especially sport. I have to be more precise about his place of birth: it should be Upper Tumble which had significant differences from Lower Tumble other than geographic. The place is one which has defied a convincing explanation of its name, ranging from heavily fractured coal seams which could collapse unexpectedly to a place where Oliver Cromwell’s son fell off his horse. Ken never tired of telling a story of a bomb had landed in the village during the war. I doubt if the Germans had any interest in bombing Tumble but after missing Swansea Docks, a bomber lightened his pay load before heading for home and the hapless Tumble was the recipient. A local paper reporting the incident said that it had made £10000 worth of improvements!
The family moved about six miles westwards to the village of Llanddarog where his father had been appointed Headmaster of the local primary school. The move was to have some significance in Ken’s education. The Tumble was in the catchment area of Gwendraeth G S whose alumni later included Caerwyn James and Barry John. Llanddarog was in the catchment area of Queen Elizabeth Grammar school, Carmarthen, a school later attended by Gerald Davies and Ray Gravelle.
Following success in the 11plus (taken in Welsh) Ken started on an academic record of outstanding distinction at the QUEGS where in his first year there, Stuart Davies, another absolute stalwart in the administration of London Welsh, was the Head Boy. Ken had completed his A Level exams while still short of his seventeenth birthday. Starting his medical studies at Kings College Hospital in 1953, he was comfortably the youngest entrant of that year, and for many years. As he told me, he was too young to use the students bar whereas a contemporary and subsequently life-long friend, John Hennessy, was able to use this facility and frequently added to Ken’s discomfort by waving at him through the window!!
Following completion of his studies, he was eventually to became a highly respected GP in the Bermonsdey and Old Kent Road areas. Stuart will elaborate on this career of 42 years.
Ken had a very wide range of interests. Rugby in particular was an activity which he followed all his life. He supported London Welsh without fail, home and away and was one of the clubs’ medical officers for over 20 years. He became the club Chairman 1982 – 1984 and was created a Life Member in 2002. He also offered his services to other clubs: the South Bank Poly/University on Wednesday afternoons not forgetting the infamous/famous Commercial Casuals RFC which had its headquarters in that unofficial Welsh Embassy in Herne Hill. There was little that was official about the Commie as it was known. Ken also frequently held temporary surgeries there on Thursday evenings, mainly to remove stitches inserted after matches the previous Saturday and in preparation for the next game. The Voyagers, a Sports Charity, supporting injured amateur sportsmen and sports women also benefited from his services both as medical officer and as President in 1992 – 1994.He supported the organisation in so many other ways and this was continued by Margaret as chairman in subsequent years.
There were many other interests: Music, in particular Jazz and Choral music were of great interest to him (he had been an accomplished piano player in his youth – not many of you knew that) he enjoyed the theatre and cinema, He was an active member of the Dulwich Wine Society and had built up a quality cellar at Lancaster Avenue where he and Margaret were very generous hosts. Apart from a wide variety of wines, there was also some bottles of home- made elderflower wine brewed by Aunty Dolly in West Wales. Few people who sampled this potent brew will ever forget it or perhaps they never remembered it!! He was a combative bridge player where theory was frequently dismissed and I am told an even more combative poker player. He travelled widely both at home and abroad spending a number of holidays in NZ with Richard and family. He owned a canal boat and Margaret and I spent many happy weeks as crew navigating the waterways in the Midlands. The boat was called the “Bwthyn Dwr” which translates as water cottage. I fielded a lot queries from onlookers on these trips “Oy Gov, what’s that name mean!!”
So, there you have it. A very active life, with wide ranging interests and especially dominated by service to others. If this is the rent we pay for our existence on this earth, then Ken’s book is well paid up.
Finally, a verse in Welsh. For the linguistically challenged, it reflects on the inevitability of death but concludes that if life is a gift, so also must be death.
Marw sydd raid nis gwyddom pryd
Pa fodd, pa le yn hyn o fyd.
Ond os yw bywyd ni’n rhodd
Mae marw hefyd yr un modd.
John Taylors tribute to Dr Ken
My journey with Ken began in 1966, pretty well as soon as I joined London Welsh – he was the team doctor and we first met on the pre-season tour that year up to the north-west. Little did I know then that he would soon be my GP and my de facto consultant for all the various rugby injuries that came my way.
There was no club medical insurance in those days but Ken’s network of contacts insured that, somehow, without paying, we could access the best doctors and the best treatment the major London Hospitals could offer – I don’t know how he achieved it but he did – which was a mark of the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues – and his expertise in circumventing hospital bureaucracy. There was always a fast-track to get us to the right man in double quick time.
He quickly became a close friend because I, like many others, got sucked into the Herne Hill ‘Taffia.’ Herne Hill had become a Welsh enclave back in the 50s when London Welsh played at the cycle track. If you had nowhere to live there was always ‘The London Welsh’ flat. It changed location regularly – landlords very often seemed unwilling to renew leases for some reason – but it was always within easy reach of the infamous Commercial Hotel in Herne Hill. The Commercial was actually an old fashioned London pub and it was the Mecca for the Welsh community in south-east London. It was also Ken’s surgery at times and I remember having stitches removed in the bar. Back to the flat – the turnover was such that you invariably started sleeping on the sofa but would have your own bedroom within 3 months. Stay for a year and you were probably the key-holder. I, like many others, moved on fairly quickly but the link remained and Ken, with his Practice in the Old Kent Road remained my GP for years even when I was living in Richmond.
Apart from his service to London Welsh as a club, I have a great deal to thank him for personally. He undoubtedly helped me win my first cap and later might even have saved my life.
I was playing only my fifth or sixth game for London Welsh on Boxing Day 1966 when Norman Gale’s brother, Byron, kicked me in the head and, with no replacements allowed in those days, Ken stopped the bleeding from a sizeable but, luckily, superficial gash, strapped a huge white bandage around my forehead and got me back on the field. Tony Gray, was injured and there were no other flankers available and definitely no concussion protocols (I was not concussed I hasten to add or he would not have allowed me back on in the first place – he was ahead of his time on that as well) so he applied another huge white bandage and I played the following day against Swansea and again against Bridgend a couple of days later. I stood out like a Belisha beacon and, suddenly, from nowhere, I was in the final trial.
I duly won my first cap and as we celebrated the announcement in the Commercial, Ken demanded payment – I had to donate my second Welsh jersey – always considerate, he allowed me to keep my first – to hang on the wall in the saloon bar. It stayed there for many years.
Some years later I had a far more serious head injury whilst playing against Bath and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance with blue lights, sirens and the whole caboodle. Ken insisted on travelling with me – thank goodness. At the Bath Royal Infirmary an overworked A & E consultant was struggling with the Saturday afternoon deluge of sports injuries and I was left parked on a stretcher with a drip. Fortunately, Ken continued to monitor me and suddenly, I heard him say, ‘Doc, I think you’d better look at this – his blood pressure is dropping into the danger zone.’ I clearly remember thinking, ‘God, that doesn’t sound very good!’ Very quickly I was the priority concern, they gave me a transfusion, and, after a while, everything stabilised. After a 7 hour operation the following day it all ended happily and a month or so later, when I had been discharged with a scaffold on my head, I asked Ken how serious it had been. In typical fashion his reply was, ‘Well, it didn’t look good for a while JT.’ There was always an air of calm about him and he certainly could never be accused of hyperbole. I don’t think I ever heard Ken really raise his voice in the 55 years I knew him.
One of my favourite memories of Ken occurred at the Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club. He had just been accepted as a member and Geoff Evans and I had just started playing so we were delighted to accept his invitation to play as his guests. It was very much a ‘be on your best behaviour’ day and we were hyper-conscious of etiquette issues. On about the fourth hole we noticed a 2 ball closing up on us and Ken immediately said, ‘we’ll let these guys through on the next hole.’ It turned out one of them was a rather pompous committee man and, before we could give way to them, he rushed up without finishing the previous hole and demanded to know if anybody was a Member. Ken explained he was a new member and that we were going to call them through – ‘dead right you will, you’re a three ball and therefore have no standing’ came the reply. Ken confirmed he was aware of that and gently pointed out they had not even finished the previous hole but invited them to take their tee-shots and go ahead of us if they were in a hurry. He was clearly embarrassed but, as always, refused to get flustered and ushered them through.
They duly went on to the tee and the bombastic, in fact, downright rude, committee man topped his tee shot, the ball rebounding from the Ladies tee box and hitting him squarely on the knee. He went down like a felled tree, Ken had to turn doctor and Geoff and I carried him into the clubhouse. It was a moment of perfect poetic justice and Dr Ken did not even allow himself to smile until we resumed our round.
Years later I spoke at the Golf Club Dinner and told the story – without identifying the committeeman – of course, and the old pro, Len Rowe, responded by saying, ‘Yes, I remember it well, our committeeman claimed he got more injuries being picked-up and dumped down again 93 times before he eventually got back to the clubhouse.
Dr Ken was, of course, part of the fabric of London Welsh Rugby Club and served as Chairman after he retired as the main club doctor – being made a life member to recognise the unique contribution he has made to the club.
But, most of all he was a dear and great friend, a man with a wicked sense of humour who could put somebody in their place with a withering remark – sometimes, without them even realising it. Margaret, your loss is huge but we all miss him too – but the memories are all happy ones – he was a joy to know – and those memories will never fade.