My father, Jim Townsley, who has died aged 85, was a gentle, generous and thoughtful man who spent his working life as an industrial chemist. In retirement, his aptitude for listening, understanding and supporting the emotional needs of others found expression through voluntary work as a trained counsellor.
Born in Ilford, east London, to Jim Sr, a post office worker, and Gertrude (nee Knight), a housewife, Jim had a younger sister, Gill; she died in 2016. His earliest memories were of sheltering under the stairs, which were supposed to be the safest part of the house, whilst the Luftwaffe tried to hit the nearby Plessey electronics factory.
One evening, a row of five houses directly behind Jim’s home was destroyed. The blast hit the back of the house, breaking all the windows, blowing most of the tiles off the roof, and embedding shrapnel in the walls and furniture. Jim was covered in fragments of broken glass – even his pyjama pocket was full of splinters – but he was unharmed. The family were evacuated from London to Hampshire, where they stayed for a year until their house was repaired.
Jim returned to school in London in 1942, passing his 11-plus and attending Ilford county high school, where he gained four A-levels. He enrolled for national service in 1954 and was given the role of administrator to the army’s director of nursing, Dame Monica Golding. This came with a small stipend, which enabled Jim, a self-taught musician, to indulge his love of choral and classical music, at the Proms and other London concerts.
In 1956, he joined Ilford Limited (now Ilford Photo) – the photographic film manufacturer – as an industrial chemist. By all accounts it was a fun place to work in the late 1950s and early 60s, with parties in the lab and the unofficial use of lab equipment for musical and distilling purposes. It was at Ilford that Jim met his future wife, Pam Smith, whom he married in 1964; and discovered an interest in team development and problem solving, awakening an aptitude for inspiring scientists and engineers to learn through creativity, fun and collaboration.
Following his retirement in 1996, Jim pursued his interest in solution-focused support, gaining a diploma in counselling from the University of Manchester. What became a 20-year second career – as a volunteer counsellor – enabled him to make full use of his innate skills to therapeutic effect, supporting people to make positive changes to their lives.
Jim is survived by Pam, their children – me and my brother, James – and grandchildren Samuel, Fred and Emily.