Mr John K Groom
09 October 1924 - 06 November 2008
John Groom loved a good anecdote – the more surreal the better. So he would be gratified that stories still circulate about him, centring on his verbal dexterity and delight in the absurd. A friend recalls their first meeting: ‘In summer 1960 I went to the Town Hall about a teaching post. The place seemed deserted – except for John holding the fort. ‘Everyone’s on holiday,’ he announced solemnly. ‘The Tory councillors are in Blackpool, and Labour are in the South of France.’ This was serious criticism, given John’s staunch adherence to the Labour Party (meaning of course Old Labour). He had not only an instinctive sympathy with the underdog but also stringent socio-political tenets, which together led to his vocation as a social worker.
Before this however came childhood in his beloved Stoke Newington, with his parents, his devoted older sister Eileen, and Peter the dog. John displayed his talents early: he was scholarly, artistic and musical, and as a youthful violinist was awarded a Junior Exhibition at the Royal College of Music, which in turn gained him a place at the historic Owen’s School. But the war put paid to all that. The small terraced family home was destroyed in the Blitz, and John was sent to stay with relatives in the country. By 1944 he was old enough to join the Royal Navy.
There he served on frigates escorting North Atlantic convoys. He was reticent about this experience, and his sparse comments have been supplemented by research later undertaken by a Navy friend, the late Aubrey Ron Smith. John was trained as a Telegrapher ‘S’ (Special) – i.e. he specialised in detection of underwater objects. His ship, HMS Domenica, was part of 2nd Support Group, famous for its prowess in tracking down U-Boats. After the end of hostilities, John was sent to Chatham to prepare for civilian life and was allocated the post of Chief Librarian of Nore Command. One can only picture his joy at being paid to live with books all day, in company with other bright lads preparing for demob.
Arriving on civvy street, his first job was inevitably concerned with the printed word, in the Ministry of Information; however something in John was not content to serve in a purely academic capacity. His passion for decent welfare provision for ordinary people led him very soon to hands-on social work, and he obtained a post with the then Middlesex County Council, which in the course of time became LB Ealing. It was Ealing residents whom he was to serve for the rest of his working days. Not that the professional role and John were always compatible. Former colleagues will well remember his difficulty in agreeing to ‘close a case’, and evenings and week-ends were spent writing up reams of case notes.
He will be remembered not least for his exquisite, grammatically faultless reports, produced on an old typewriter and signed off with a flourish that often penetrated the page.
Yet he managed also to pursue his thirst for knowledge, in politics, philosophy, psychology and the arts. He updated and deepened his understanding of his work through part-time study at Birkbeck and at the London School of Economics. He loved the theatre, and was a lifelong member of the Shaw Society. He continued to play the violin, enjoying duets with his pianist friend Julian. As an artist, his proudest exhibit was an abstract painting which won first prize in an Ealing Borough competition. He was a committed member of the Fabian Society. In old age he produced two enormous collages composed of quotes from poetry, religion, science, philosophy and politics, reflecting the breadth of his interests.
Sadly, he was in the habit of underestimating his own worth. However, he was widely appreciated – for instance, by the Polish Society of West London, who made him an honorary member in recognition of his support for their community. (Typically, John made sure that his co-worker in this field was similarly acknowledged.) To those who knew him John was a delight, whether as Renaissance Man, colleague and helper, family member or friend. He was fearsomely intelligent, sensitive, cryptic, sociable, and the soul of kindness. He lived out his own ideals of fairness, decency and compassion. He was also addicted to chocolate cake, and unable to figure out how to fasten a seat-belt.
We are so thankful to have known him.
~ Ms Alison Terrington