Councillor Tom Parker
Born in the Rhondda, South Wales.
Blinded at 16, a basket maker by trade
General Secretary of the National Union of the Blind
lead Uxbridge marchers on Aldermaston CND march
Leader of the Labour Group Uxbridge Urban District Council 1949-1964
Thomas J Parker, OBE
J A Wall writes:
Tom Parker died peacefully at his home in Pontypridd on August 11th 1995. He was aged 86.
Born fully sighted into a closely-knit Welsh mining community, he would have undoubtedly become a coal miner if blindness had not supervened. At the age of 12, following an accident, he lost the sight in one eye and went to a school for the blind. Four years later, following an unsuccessful operation on his good eye, he became totally blind.
Tom’s first job was at the local sheltered workshop. He joined the National League of the Blind, the Trade Union which represented employees in workshops, and by the age of 20 he was Branch Chairman. Three years later, he was elected Area Secretary and became a member of the National Executive Council.
In 1936, he was elected full-time paid organiser for the National League of the Blind in
and the South of London . He held this post for 33 years. In 1969, he was elected General Secretary of the League, and then, ten years later, retired at the age of 70. England
Tom was all his life a keen member of the Labour Party. In 1946, he was elected to the
Council, the first time that Uxbridge had been represented on the County Council by a member of the Labour Party. In 1949, he lost his seat on the County Council, but was almost immediately elected to what was then the Uxbridge Urban District Council. By 1960, Uxbridge had become a Borough and Tom was elected Mayor. He continued to be a member of Uxbridge Borough Council until it was dissolved on Middlesex County 31 March 1965, and then became a member of Hillingdon London Borough Council. He continued on that Council until 1968.
While Mayor, Tom raised money to found an old people's welfare centre, which continues to flourish. But his political interests were not limited to the local scene. In 1951, he stood as Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Ruislip-Northwood. He did not win, but got the highest Labour vote ever recorded in the Constituency. In 1964, he stood for Parliament in the apparently safe Conservative seat of Uxbridge. Again he was defeated, but by the very narrow margin of 600 votes.Both as a Trade Unionist and as a Labour Party politician, Tom was a formidable protagonist. When negotiating with the old
Until 1970, the National League of the Blind had not taken much of a part in the activities of Royal National Institute for the Blind. In that year, however, Tom was elected a member of the Executive Council. Just as had happened in Trade Union and Labour Party politics, Tom was soon at the forefront of RNIB affairs. With his interests in employment, he became Vice-Chairman of the Rehabilitation, Training and Employment Sub-Committee (1976-92), and Chairman of the Vocational and Social Services Committee (1982-92). He was from 1980-88 Vice-Chairman of the International Committee.
One of his big achievements was to be the founding Chairman of the Consumers Sub-Committee (1975-92). His practical flair meant that, from the outset, that Sub-Committee played a full part in evaluating new equipment designed for blind people.
Radio has always been important for blind people but, in his nature, Tom was not just a passive listener. In 1938, he was one of the first blind people to obtain a Radio Amateur's Licence, and he continued this interest until his dying day. It was natural that the RNIB should appoint him as one of the representatives on the Committee of the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, and he served as Vice-Chairman of that Fund until 1995 and was Chairman of its Technical Committee. He was,justly proud that, under his chairmanship, the Technical Committee developed a radio/cassette player
Tom interest in blind affairs was not limited to the
. As long ago as 1949, he had visited United Kingdom and gave blind organisations in that country invaluable help in rebuilding facilities destroyed during World War II. In the 1960s, he visited the Holland , and joined the International Federation of the Blind (IFB). At that time, there was o some tension between the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (a `for' organisation) and the International Federation of the Blind (an `of organisation). Tom had a foot in both camps. From 1970-84 he was First Vice-President of the IFB. United States
World Blind Union
Like other men of good will, Tom considered the division between IFB and WCWB to be both unnecessary and damaging. Merger discussions had foundered.Tom hit upon the bright idea of suggesting that both organisations should be dissolved, and a new organisation (the World Blind union) founded. This happened at both world level and in
Tom as appointed an Honorary Life Member of both the World Blind
Union and the European Blind Union. He was 75, and many people of his age would have decided that it was time to hang up their boots. But Tom still had much to give. He was appointed to the Rehabilitation, Training and Employment Committee of the World Blind Union. More important, he became the first Chairman of the EBU Commission for liaising with the European Economic Community. He held this post for six years.
Many honours were conferred on Tom. He received the Louis Braille Medal; and, at the age of 80, the Help the Aged Golden Award as `Intrepid Traveller'. On his retirement from the Executive Council of RNIB in 1995, he was appointed an Honorary Vice President of the Institute, a unique honour for a blind person.
So much for history, but what was Tom like as a man? He was happily married, and very proud of his son, Brian, grandchildren and great-granddaughters. He was greatly saddened when his wife died, and, before that, when his son, like himself, became blind as a child. His daughter-in-law, Muriel, helped him a great deal in his later years.
He was a warm-hearted Welshman, who never lost his Welsh accent or his Welsh patriotism. He was essentially a practical man who was much more at home looking at new equipment for blind people than in tackling abstract ideas. He was always alert and willing to help blind people, whether in the
, United Kingdom Europe or the wider world. He was always good for a `soundbite'. He was loyal to his friends and loyal to the causes which he championed.
Above all, by his example and by sheer hard work, he showed to the world what blind people could do for themselves.
He once said that blindness had never prevented him from doing what he wanted to do. Tom’s many friends mourn his loss, and extend to his family our deep sympathy.
J A Wall is Chairman of RNIB.
Radio has always been important for blind people but, in his nature, Tom was not just a passive listener. In 1938, he was one of the first blind people to obtain a Radio Amateur's Licence, and he continued this interest until his dying day. It was natural that the RNIB should appoint him as one of the representatives on the Committee of the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, and he served as Vice-Chairman of that Fund until 1995 and was Chairman of its Technical Committee. He was,justly proud that, under his chairmanship, the Technical Committee developed a radio/cassette player specially designed to meet the
In 1984, Tom Parker received the Merite Typhlophile Francais, awarded by the French Federation of the Blind - one many honours conferred on him during his long career. This photo appeared in the Pontypridd Observer to commemorate the occasion.
also see leader of blind hunger marchers ex Middlesex County Councillor