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.
Ingenious and creative, Teddy Smith was a marvellous mechanic. ‘This man can fix anything,’ his demob record said ‘and he is invariably cheerful’
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.