Tribute to an inspiring Larne educator and humanitarian initiator

Tom Crawford.

Thomas (Tom) Nelson Crawford died peacefully in hospital on Sunday (February 20) after a short illness. His funeral will take place tomorrow (Thursday 24 February) at 2pm at Cairncastle Presbyterian Church without a subscription.

Mr. Crawford was Tanya’s husband and the father of Pauline, Jane, Richard and Stephen. Tom’s brother Robert Crawford and wife Sally, sister Sandy Kerr and the whole family also mourn his passing. Thomas was born at the Cottage Hospital in Larne on November 27, 1934. He grew up on Laharna Avenue, beginning his formal education at the age of six at a school near the Old Presbyterian Church on Meetinghouse Street.

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Thomas was a keen student and from Larne No. 1 (Bank Road School) he won a scholarship to Larne Grammar School where he spent the next seven years meeting his best friend James Adrain, a naturalist painter. The two boys were keen athletes and built a 220-yard straight at the Old Narrow Garage on the former section of the line from Larne to Ballyclear. The line was raised, and two boys filled the places where the sleepers used to be with excess stones at the edge of the railway. They have been training for many years on their track, which is considered the only one in Ireland!

From 1953 to 1956, Thomas attended Stranmillis College to become a teacher, where his mother wanted to go but unfortunately couldn’t due to her father’s death in the war. While at Stranmillis, Thomas trained hard to get on the track and field team to tour England where his specialty was the 100 and 220 yards. In the All-Ireland Derby, Prime Minister Sir Basil Brooke started the race with his own revolver. Thomas kept fit throughout the year, running 440 yards six times with a walk in between, and his heart rate dropped to 49 beats per minute. He played hockey for Larne on the wing, where his speed was most useful.

His first teaching position was at Kirkistown Primary School under James Wilson of Ballicole, who gave Thomas a solid foundation in the art of teaching. Like his father, Thomas has always had a knack for woodworking and studied in Belfast to win the City and Guilds award. He won another scholarship in his senior year to return to Stranmillis College and study arts, crafts and design to improve his craft skills where he worked harder than ever and enjoyed the course. A £10,000 scholarship enabled Thomas to buy an MGA sports car.

He went to work at a brand new high school in Dungiven. Here he created the departments of woodworking, metalworking and polyethylene. In 1965, he applied for and became headmaster of Brusley Primary School, where he also passed on his love of sports. Indeed, at one point, half of the hockey team at Larne Grammar were students that Tom coached for 11+. His exceptional results in transfer exams meant that many students went some distance to receive high-level education, for which Thomas received recognition and a medal – he received letters of appreciation from many companies and authorities. During his years as director, he entered three more universities and received degrees in history, philosophy of education, and psychology.

Thomas received an MA in International Relations from the University of Limerick with a focus on Eastern Europe and was working on his Ph.D. He was invited by BESO (British Executive Services Overseas) to cover Eastern Europe and create new industries by giving free lectures to iron and steel companies in the host countries (Ukraine, Russia, etc. together. Thomas lectured them on credit control, marketing and business plans .

Tom O’Donnell of the Peace Institute asked Thomas to set up a student exchange program in which students from Eastern Europe stayed at the University of Limerick, visiting the West for the first time. He began attending classes at Queen’s University Belfast to learn Russian. He was asked to take 19 people to a meeting of foreign students in Estonia, where group discussions about peace were held in Leningrad and Moscow. Tom met his future wife Tanya in Estonia.

This group did valuable work at the Estonian orphanage, decorating it, teaching children about games and sports, and taking over many truckloads of clothes, food, toys—all the little things the children had. This humanitarian aid continued for 10-15 years, maintaining communication between the Estonian Orphanage and the Peace Institute, transporting at least two trucks every year.

For all this work, Tom was offered a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in peace and tourism at the University of Limerick.

The two Toms remained close friends throughout their lives.

At some point, Tom bought 10 acres of land with two old cottages on Burn Road in Doa. Over the next two years, with the help of his father, he built a new bungalow on the site. He set up a fenced garden and grew all kinds of trees – peaches and other fruits. The iron gate on the avenue leading to the house belonged to the Groomsport House Hotel. When the press found out that Tom was building his own house by direct labor, they wrote lengthy articles and published his photographs to encourage other young people to build their own houses.

In the 1970s, Tom was involved in an initiative to invite high-ranking representatives of Fine Gael to stay in Ballikler to discuss peace, find common ground, and reduce violence. It was done on the sly.

Tom later applied his knowledge to the business sector, including being hired by a construction firm where he became an executive director, and helping a colleague develop the idea of ​​a prepaid funeral plan at a time when there were none in Europe.

Thomas had two great lifelong friends, Richard Gordon and George Watson, from The Rock, near Dungannon, who was also known as “Tyrone’s Bard”. Every summer, Richard came to Balliloran House, and the two of them went to explore the old mansions and castles of Ireland – they were experts in this field. Three houses in particular attracted all the attention: Summerhill in County Meath, Dunboy Castle in County Cork and Killua, County Westmeath.

George Watson, another close friend and confidant of Thomas for 65 years, directed and performed plays throughout Tyrone. Some of these were his own writings, while others were the works of Irish writers.

In the last few years of his life, Tom bought a house in Ballygally and set about planting an orchard and all sorts of fruit. He lived happily with his wife Tanya, especially enjoying an evening of steaks at the Londonderry Arms, walking his dog Bella down Daffodil Lane and sitting by the fire.

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