Fred Thomas obituary

My uncle, Fred Thomas, who has died aged 85, was a senior lecturer in civil and structural engineering who undertook groundbreaking research into subjects as diverse as the causes of aeroplane crashes and the structural properties of glass.

Fred was born in Tenby, son of Hector, a carpenter, and his wife, Eva, and went to Greenhill grammar school. As a young boy, he would make wooden toys for his younger cousins in his father’s workshop. Fred did not go on to have any children, nor did he ever marry. However, he was incredibly close to his immediate and extended family. He was an integral part of family life for my parents, my brother and me for more than 40 years.

He gained a doctorate in engineering at Cardiff University and went on to lecture there in various types of engineering for more than 30 years. He found himself in the privileged position of writing his department’s lecture timetable and planned it so that he never gave lectures on a Friday. In doing so, he managed to divide his time equally between Cardiff and Tenby until he took early retirement in the late 1980s. Each Thursday Fred would travel from Cardiff to Tenby, and would stop at our house – midway between the two – for tea, when he would regale us with tales of his fascinating exploits.

He never flew, an aversion he jocularly attributed to his time researching the causes of the Comet crashes in the 1950s where he discovered that minute fractures around the plane’s rivets were intensified every time it landed.

Fred’s main research area was, however, into the properties of glass. While conducting research into different methods of producing glass fibre, Fred was able to identify a process for making glass fibres that had far fewer of the microscopic cracks that cause a loss of signal when light is transmitted through them. His research contributed to the development of the fibre optic cables now used for internet connections over vast distances.

He went on to study the properties of glass-reinforced cement. Companies would send him six-inch cubes of concrete, each with slightly different ingredients, so that he could establish which was the strongest. With his dislike for waste, Fred took the surplus cubes and managed to pave the whole of his driveway.

When he took early retirement in 1987, Fred returned full time to Tenby, where he was able to spend more time with his mother and his sister, Auriol. It wasn’t long before he became restless and decided to buy two properties that he let out to holiday makers; then, not long afterwards, two more. Fred took good care of his guests, and never put his prices up in the 18 years he ran the business. Our family gathered together for holidays at Fred’s properties each summer. By us, and his friends, he will be remembered above all for his generosity.

He is survived by Auriol.

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