Tom Gondris (1930 - 2019)

Tom was a great contributor to The Ipswich Society and indeed to many other organisations which aim to benefit our town.  He was that rare individual whose role as a businessman seemed wholly compatible with putting in the effort and time to work for such organisations.  Ipswich was fortunate to be the recipient of his good work.

Many readers will already know Tom's remarkable background story but it is essential to our appreciation of the man to share this knowledge with all our members.

Tom's parents could see that the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia bode ill so, learning about the kindertransport, they managed to get their 9 year old son on what turned out to be the last

children's train to leave Prague in 1939.  They had arranged for British friends of Tom's uncle (who already had four boys of their own) to take in this young boy who spoke no English. His parents aimed to follow via an indirect route through Poland but that country was being invaded and they were never heard of any more. Tom bought Bernard Reynolds' Triple mycomorph sculpture as a lasting memorial to his parents.  It is positioned in the small, peaceful garden behind the Wolsey Art Gallery at Christchurch Mansion.

A happy upbringing in England eventually led to this intelligent young man joining the firm of Harry Erben, manufacturer of bottling equipment.  When the firm re-located to Hadleigh, Tom and his wife Pat chose to live in Ipswich – our luck was in.

Always interested in history and the arts, especially architecture, Tom joined The Ipswich Society and was soon elected on to the committee.  When it became necessary to appoint someone to take charge of responding to planning applications, Tom was happy to take that on and admirably organised our team of monitors when important matters came up thick and fast, more so then than now.

His greatest enthusiasm was for Ipswich Building Preservation Trust.  In 1978 as a founder member and chairman, who knew how to get things done and raise the funding, he could see that the preservation of Ipswich's endangered historic buildings was an urgent concern. He negotiated a loan from the Borough Council to acquire the first property. When that major restoration was complete, it was sold to raise the capital to buy the next property, and so on each time.

The Trust subsequently saved, amongst others, the former Globe Inn (St George's Street), the Half Moon and Star (St Matthew's Street), the magnificent Curson Lodge (St Nicholas Street/Silent Street) and, his favourite project, Pykenham's Gatehouse (Northgate St).  He remained dedicated to The Ipswich Society, but I often think that his wish to remain on The Ipswich Society committee even though he wasn't well enough to attend was partly because we usually meet in Pykenham's Gatehouse – and up that steep little staircase which he knew he couldn't negotiate in his last two or three years.

He was also a founder member of the more recent Suffolk Architectural Heritage Trust which he chaired for a time.  And he was a leading figure and then chairman of the River Action Group, recognising the need for making better use of the river banks in the town.  A friend of youngsters, too, he helped to promote the skate park near Stoke Bridge, although he sometimes worried that the skaters didn't wear helmets.

It was all these services to Conservation and Heritage in Ipswich and Suffolk which brought him national recognition with the award of MBE in 2009.  Nobody could say it wasn't thoroughly earned.

Not to be forgotten, Tom served as a Labour councillor on the Borough Council in the years 1972-76, at the time when Bob Cross was grateful for all the support he could get from Ipswich Borough Council and the wider community for the conversion of the Corn Exchange and creating the new venture of Ipswich Film Theatre (IFT) which Tom supported wholeheartedly.  He could appreciate the warmth and humanity of the wonderful range of international films which IFT brought to Ipswich for the first time.

Those of us who attended Tom's funeral on 21 February 2019 were given, not a conventional order of service, but a selection of family photographs ranging from poignant little Czech boy to Tom in later years with Pat, their daughter Joanna and sons, Peter and Alexander.  Seven words on the cover summed up Tom perfectly:

“a life lived well by doing good”.

Neil Salmon

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