Tommy Aitchison, RIP

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Bermuda, media, sports
Tags: , ,

Tommy Aitchison (right), reminiscing with Austin (Cheesey) Hughes in 2005.

I was very sad to hear of Tommy Aitchison’s passing last night. Although as a lifelong cricket lover and historian of the local game, he would be the first to admit that at 95, he’d had a “good innings”.

I will forever be indebted to Tommy because when I first came to Bermuda as a sports journalist in 1982 he was a generous and invaluable source and guide to Bermuda cricket at a time when the Bermuda Cricket Board of Control was a complete shambles in terms of results and statistics. In a pre-internet age and little written history of Bermuda sports available then, Tommy was a godsend to an expat reporter.

Were it not for his painstaking – and voluntary – efforts, many of the Cup Match and County Cup records would simply never have been recorded or preserved.  Incredibly, he compiled these from scratch twice because his original stats, left with a colleague for safe-keeping when Tommy moved to the US for 20 years, were thrown away.

It was through Tommy’s enthusiastic recollections that I first learned about the exploits of Bermudian cricketing legends like Alma (Champ) Hunt, Nigel (Chopper) Hazel, and Clarence (Tuppence) Parfitt, that formed the basis of many articles I wrote over the years as sports editor of the Mid-Ocean News (Tommy had also been its sports editor, back in the days when it was an afternoon daily).

We worked on many cricket annuals and projects together over the years and remained good friends. In 2005 I was privileged to edit and produce the publication he said he was most proud of, A True Bermudian Champion, a tribute to the great all-rounder Austin (Cheesy) Hughes.

Tommy’s journalism was sometimes criticised, with some justification, because he rarely wrote anything bad about anyone – even if they deserved it. But that was just Tommy. Whether he was writing about cricket, his beloved late wife Lois, or his former wartime army colleagues, whose obituaries he would diligently produce for The Royal Gazette, he always looked for the positive in everything. And he never asked for a cent. I remember him being taken aback when I first asked him to write an article for RG Magazine and insisted that he got paid for it!

Tommy’s writing and gentlemanly good humour may now seem from another era but that’s what made him so beloved. And I for one shall miss him dearly.

Read on for a short biography of Tommy I wrote to accompany the Austin Hughes book:

Although he was born in Mount Cisco, New York, to Scottish parents in 1915, Tommy Aitchison’s name has become synonymous with Bermudian sports about which he has written for more than half a century, earning a reputation as the Island’s foremost cricket historian and statistician. He first came to Bermuda as a seven-year old when his father was contracted to help build the original Bermudiana Hotel and made the island his permanent home.

Tommy attended Saltus Grammar School and then high school in Scotland. He returned to Bermuda to become a salesman for Pearman Watlington & Co. before being called up to the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps at the outbreak of World War Two and volunteering for overseas service.

He had started compiling cricket statistics before the war and after being demobbed, he became a sports reporter for the then daily Mid-Ocean News and reported his first Cup Match in 1946. He later became sports editor and publisher of Bermuda Sports, a monthly magazine, as well as a partner in the Sportsmans Shop.

In 1956, he left Bermuda for Colorado, Arizona and San Diego when doctors advised the drier climate would be more beneficial for the ailing health of his first wife, Joan.  Joan would live another 18 years during which time Tommy studied accountancy and became a CPA. He met second wife Lois (nee Kempe) in 1975 and returned to Bermuda in 1976, working for Butterfield & Steinhoff until his retirement in 1980.

He founded the Bermuda Cricket Annual (later the Shell Cricket Annual) in 1980 and continued to compile the only publicly available statistics for cricket competitions such as Cup Match and the County Cups. In fact he painstakingly compiled these historically important statistics from scratch twice as his first set was thrown away by a careless custodian during Tommy’s absence from Bermuda.

He was a founding member of the Bermuda Cricket Foundation, which was designed to provide ongoing funding for youth cricket but was never supported by the Island’s cricket authorities. His Cup Match statistics are now in the Government Archives.

He continues to contribute articles to local newspapers and magazines, including tributes and obituaries of the Island’s war veterans. His first love, though, remains sport.

“I wasn’t much of a player,’ he admits, “but I fulfilled my enthusiasm by writing about it.”

His most treasured memory is a remarkable personal correspondence he maintained with the legendary Australian batsman Sir Donald Bradman. While visiting Australia and New Zealand in 1985, he received a letter of introduction to Sir Donald from a mutual friend, Kenneth Sandford, a distinguished author and cricket administrator whom he had met when Sandford led a touring team to Bermuda. Sadly, Tommy became ill and never got to Adelaide, Bradman’s home city. However, on his return to Bermuda he wrote to him and so began a correspondence that continued for the last 15 years of Bradman’s life, even though the two never met.

Since early 2005, Tommy and Lois have lived in San Diego, California. His two retired sons, Christopher and Bruce, also live “out west”. He has five grandchildren.

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Comments
  1. Will Kempe says:

    Thank you Chris, I spoke with my Uncle Tom recently and he noted that he never scored a century in cricket but was hopeful even confident he might blaze a ton in years. He was the truest of gentlemen, had the patience of Job and the kindest man I ever met.

  2. […] Breezeblog mourns the passing of “lifelong cricket lover and historian of the local game…Tommy Aitchison”. Tweet […]

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