Dick Thomas RIP: Obituary by Clive DeBruyn


9th September 1938 to 12th January 2018.

The sad news that Dick Thomas had died on Friday January 12th was announced at the BBKA annual delegates meeting on the following day. The ‘minute’s silence’ for Dick and the other beekeepers whose death in the last year had been announced was especially felt by all those who knew Dick.

Dick’s first introduction to Essex and beekeeping came at the age of 8 when he was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Saffron Waldon with his brother.  He was acquainted with bees by the science master who kept bees in the quad. Dick was able to help with the mead making.

After leaving school Dick spent a year in France and gained a Baccalaureate. He also did a mixed science BSc in chemistry, physics and maths at Bristol followed by a teaching certificate in Oxford. After Oxford he spent two years in Austria, first in Vienna then in Innsbruck working freelance on technical translations.  Dick’s knowledge and fluency in languages came to the fore when he was the Bee Farmers Association European rep at various times. I found him especially valuable on our visits to beekeepers in Europe.

1988: Dick (standing) with Margaret and the Clive de Bruyn the obituary author (backside view) working with Queen breeder John Kefuss in Toulouse, France. The gang were excavating the site for an Artificial Insemination building.

Dar es Salaam in Tanzania was Dick’s next port of call where he taught maths and science at an Anglican boarding school for four years.  In 1966 he met and married Margaret. Their first child Leonard (Lenny) was born during this time abroad. On the family’s return to England they settled in Thorpe Bay, Southend on Sea. At that time Dick had a job with Burroughs Computing. Their daughter Bridget (Biddy) was born in Essex.  

They were both interested in keeping bees and when in 1973 they approached the local equipment supplier, Geoff Bazin; he insisted they attend beekeeping classes before he sold them equipment. (How wise). Ted Hooper was, at that time, the County Beekeeping lecturer at Writtle College. It was under the guidance of Ted that Dick and Margaret were introduced to the fascinating world of bees. There is a record of Dick attending an outdoor Southend meeting at Rochford on the 18th of May 1974. Later that year, in July, the whole family attended a meeting at South Benfleet.


Beekeeping took up a lot of free time starting with a few hives and gradually increasing to 40 plus once the children left home. Dick and Margaret were active at the very epicentre of Southend and Essex Beekeeping educational and organisational activities. For many years Dick played various executive roles at both divisional and county level.  He became chairman of the Essex Beekeeping Association for a number of years and helped redraft the Essex constitution.

Dick was active at a national level on the BBKA executive committee and was party to rearranging the BBKA constitution. He was elected in 1986 to serve a three-year term and subsequently re-elected for a further three-year term in 1988, thus serving for six years in total.  Richard proved a very useful member of the executive, his skills, knowledge and contributions to debate making him a valuable participant. Dick also served on the Sprays and Pesticides committee, (1987 – 91), the Agenda and Standing Orders committee 1988 -1989 as well as chairing the Forward Planning Committee. Dick was always able to get on with things without the distracting strife that is now evident.  I very much enjoyed serving on various committees with Dick.

At the June meeting of Southend BKA, just before their departure to Scotland in 2009 Dick and Margaret were awarded the status of Honorary Life Membership for all they had done for the division over the last 35 years. In his appreciation the then president, Harry Stennett, said that the Thomas’s had made outstanding contributions to beekeeping in the county of Essex and nationally.  He went on to say that they were noteworthy in that they had both been successful in their chosen professions, Dick as a teacher and administrator and Margaret as a physiotherapist as well as remarkable beekeepers. Of Dick he quoted from Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’  “This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool and to do that well, craves wit”.

When Dick and Margaret moved to Scotland they were sorely missed. In 2011 Dick was diagnosed with vascular dementia.  Gradually this disease took away his language ability. I always knew that if I asked Dick to proof read anything or translate something for me the result would be first-rate. For someone like Dick who had a fantastic command of language this loss must have been a sad blow.

I have visited Dick and Margaret in Scotland annually. Last year we were able to go walking together. He was physically fit at that time after recovering from a chest infection. He had then lost the ability to do Sudoku, a last remaining skill. He must have found  this and dependence on others  hard. In his own words he always “loved words and numbers”.

Margaret, Dick and the author out walking last year

There will be a private family cremation but Margaret, with her son and daughter Lenny and Biddy, will hope to have a celebration of Dick’s life later in the year.

I once more quote Dicks words

“Love to you all and remember me as whole

Clive de Bruyn.