In the current climate when many people were unable to attend Tom's funeral, it was thought that his friends might like to read the tribute which Rev Johnston Lambe delivered on Wednesday 25th March 2020.
This morning we come together as family to remember, with love and affection, the life of Tom Jeffrey and to acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty in life and in death.
Tom was born on the 6th December 1938, the unexpected twin who came after the birth of his brother Roy. Tom was 8½ lbs and Roy 10 lbs. His parents, Edith and Bob, already had a son, Sam and so it was quite a shock to have twin boys arrive. Edith wasn’t expected to survive, so Tom was wrapped up and sent up the street to his Aunt Mary, who, along with his Uncle Tommy Bell, looked after him for the first year of his life until his mum was able to have him home. The family home was 48 Halcombe Street. It was a lively and busy home, as you can imagine. A home filled with music and laughter and where, as a young man, Tom was encouraged in the things of God.
From his earliest days church played a large part in his life. The family church was Megain Memorial, but the boys were sent to Sunday school and Boys’ Brigade here in Mountpottinger. Tom sat under successive ministers and teachers and as a young man he came to a living, vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus. This was to be the hallmark of his life.
Tom attended Nettlefield Primary, then transferred to Park Parade. Tom, an able student, did well at school. In the December he turned 14, he left and started as a message boy in the Sirocco Works, where, at age 16, he took up an apprenticeship as an iron turner. While in the Sirocco Works, he made many good friends and was able to help his fellow workers with writing letters and completing forms – all the while sharing his love for the Lord Jesus. Sadly, when a journeyman had completed his time he was always let go. In Tom’s case, he finished one job on a Friday and on the Monday he started work in the Tab, where he worked until the factory closed.
He worked in a series of jobs from then on. During his time of employment as general manager of Securicor in Northern Ireland, he resigned on principle, after being ordered to sack a colleague who had been shot during a robbery - such was the calibre of Tom Jeffrey!
Tom was never long out of work, working as he did for several months in London and in the Royal Victoria Hospital, before being engaged as a reserve constable in the RUC during some of the very darkest days of the troubles in Northern Ireland. He was medically retired following his heart attack at the age of 62. However, even that didn’t stop Tom from being active and fully engaged with life.
The real love of his life was a young Doris Hall. Her first introduction to him was following her family’s move to Belfast after the war. The family settled in Frank Street and began to attend Mountpottinger. The first event was the Life Boys’ display - Doris was 8 and Tom was 10 and the rest, as they say, is history! They were to be part of the church life together, but it was following a Hallowe’en party in the lecture hall that Tom tapped her on the shoulder and asked her if he could walk her home. He was 17 and she was 15. They walked out for the next few years and were married on Tuesday 24th April, 1962. They were allowed just 3 days holiday to get married and, as Tom didn’t fancy disrupting the 12th, they settled on Easter Tuesday instead. They honeymooned in Dunleary, then returned to their first home in Orby Drive, opposite Doris’s grandparents and parents. It was to remain a great family home for the next 55 years, until their move to Moneyreagh, some 3 years ago.
Doris, the Lord blessed you with two daughters, Cooche and Tojoe, better known as Elaine and Angie. Together, you were the apple of your Dad’s eye and he just loved your company and encouraged you both in all that you did. With your marriages to John and Roy and then the birth of those precious grandchildren, Andrew, Mark, Ryan and Chrissie, his happiness was complete. This morning I assure you all of the prayers of the entire congregation on the loss of Tom. As a family you have many wonderful memories of time spent with Tom, the eternal joker, who was always so full of fun.
He loved to hear of the grandchildren's achievements and particularly their sporting successes and failures. He had a great way of encouraging them when they won a match by a huge margin, “Who were you playing - the Cripples’ Institute, or had they no goalie?” He was always proud of them, and was happy to run Tom’s taxis for them and their many friends.
Tom was a man of many facets. He had a passion for football and was very skilled, but, because he left school in the December, he was unable to play for Northern Ireland school boys. He played for the BB and the RUC and had a trial for Linfield Swifts.
Tom had a love of music and played for the Grosvenor Hall military band - his instruments were the cornet and French horn. His real abiding musical passion was singing, and he was a member of the church choir for 50 years; the Boyd Endowment boys’ choir; the RUC choir; the Kings Chorale; the CE choir and the Schuler Crusade choir. He was in frequent demand as a soloist and took part in services the length and breadth of the country. On occasions he was supported by the Jeffrey sisters. He also sang at open air meetings. Without a doubt, his ministry in song touched many lives. He had lessons on the piano and organ with the late Billy Taylor. On many occasions I would call at the church and hear him playing the organ.
Within this congregation his qualities and abilities were easily recognised and he was elected and ordained to the eldership in 1972. He served his Lord in many roles and always with distinction. He was an inspirational Sunday school teacher, a supportive Boys’ Brigade officer and a true Christian friend. Indeed, in Mountpottinger they still talk about the lifetime friendship between Frank and Ann; Sam and Mary; Doris and Tom. He was respected for his integrity and strong Christian values - always believing things should be done right and justice should prevail. He was much admired by all who knew him. I never heard a bad word spoken about him.
His many years of service as a church minibus driver won him the love and admiration of many within our congregation, as he often went the extra mile in support of that particular generation and never more so than of his mother, who was so dependent on him. As far as ‘the golden girls’ in Belle Bashford were concerned, nobody could compare to their dear friend Tom Jeffrey.
Tom was so often the life and soul of the company with his great ability to make up witty stories about individuals in the congregation, especially during the church holidays or annual meetings. Many of the stories were sung to the tune of the Mountains of Mourne. When you have time to look back on the many photographs of the holiday in Zimbabwe (on your 25th wedding anniversary, when he was the only white face in the local church choir); of the holiday in Jersey with the family and of those beloved church holidays, you see the man Tom was, full of life and vigour. The next time you make the cornflake haystacks, remember Tom who made them for each of you with love.
Friends, so much could be said of Tom. When we chatted about him, some words came forward in our thinking. He was a loving, devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was humorous and full of witty sayings. He was a generous man, fulfilling the instruction ‘never let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ and giving without fuss or a need for praise. The grandchildren benefitted greatly from his generosity – they even continued to get pocket money for a time after they had started working.
Sadly for Tom, these last years have been challenging and difficult. May I pay tribute to Doris for being his wife, nurse, confidante and soulmate. Doris, you have fulfilled your marriage vows to the full. I also pay tribute to Elaine and Angie, and indeed to you all, for the love and support given to Tom. You were all so very special and precious to him. He gave his love unconditionally and I know you never wanted to disappoint him and I don't think you ever did.
Tom bore the cross of illness with great courage and confidence in the Lord. He bore a living testimony of the grace of God, quietly and with dignity. When asked how he was, he was invariably ‘alright’ and never complained; never wanted to be a bother. He was a man to always give a word for the Lord and to encourage others to faith and in the faith – often, quietly and unassumingly, giving bibles to new believers. He was a support to his many friends and colleagues. In the hospital he constantly sang his testimony and all knew that Tom Jeffrey loved the Lord.
At a later date we hope to share as a church family and I know it is the mind of the eldership to have a time of praise and worship, so that together we might celebrate Tom’s life and service; praise his Lord and Saviour and sing his favourite hymns and Psalms.
Today we remember Tom the devoted son, much loved brother, beloved husband, loving father and grandfather, who didn't just ‘talk the talk’, but faithfully ‘walked the walk’ and spent his life encouraging all to a living, vibrant, infectious faith in the Lord and Saviour who was also his dearest friend. Tom is now more alive than he has ever been, in the presence of his friend Jesus, singing the praises of the One who had loved and cleansed him from every spot and stain.
As his pastor it has been my joy and privilege to have known and been encouraged by him.