The mantle of being Surbiton’s oldest man sat easily on Eddie Beavan’s shoulders. His was, said the minister at his memorial service, a long life, well-lived. He died one month short of 106. A resident of Portsmouth Road, Surbiton, he adored travelling… which is how he came to be arrested at Heathrow in 2014. Walking
A resident of Portsmouth Road, Surbiton, he adored travelling… which is how he came to be arrested at Heathrow in 2014.
Walking through passport control on his return from Tenerife, he triggered alarm bells and was led away for questioning.
Immigration officers eventually fathomed that their computers couldn’t cope with anyone aged 103, and had recategorised him as a three-year-old, attempting to enter the UK alone!
Born in Teddington in 1912, the year the Titanic sank, he attended Twickenham prep school and Hampton Grammar before, as “a mediocre student excelling only in maths, music and sport”, according to son Peter, he embraced engineering.
He joined the Westinghouse in Liverpool as an eight-bob-a-week trainee draughtsman, studying at Liverpool Poly in the evenings.
“His father,” said Peter, recalling grandad, “was deeply ambitious, and somewhat unpleasant.”
“Eddie (pictured) liked sermons to be concise and precise,” said Peter, which explained why the engineering student abandoned interminable chapel services and, in 1931, crossed the road to a Wesleyan Methodist church which proved more to his liking.
He started playing the organ there in the 1930s, beginning a lifelong love of church music (Welsh church music in particular), culminating in 15 years playing the organ at Kingston Methodist Church, where his memorial service was held in January.
His field of expertise during a 40-year engineering career was railway signalling, with his first break coming courtesy of Scarborough borough council which had set up a miniature steam train layout in a public park and needed someone to design a safe self-stopping signal system for it.
He eventually graduated to designing the signalling for the electrified West Coast mainline.
In 1953 Westinghouse’s signalling division transferred him to its London sales office, where he replaced his chain-smoking dad, who had reached retirement age after working for the same company.
Eddie and wife Dorothy shared a house in Tudor Drive, Kingston, with Eddie travelling to India, South America and the Far East, selling signalling systems.
He ended up with responsibility for the opening of the company’s office in Newport, commuting to south Wales every weekend, right up to his own retirement from the firm in 1977, after 47 years’ service.
Yet he was a mere lad of 65 then, with 40 years ahead of him.
After Dorothy’s death in 1998 (the couple were married for nearly 60 years) he moved to the Thames Haven riverside flat which he shared with Peter.
“It wasn’t difficult living with Eddie as every day was a celebration of laughter,” said his son.
Retirement meant even more freedom to travel, and Eddie set off on trip after trip around the globe.
While riding the subway system in Singapore on one jaunt, he spotted a Westinghouse logo on a metal plate between two carriages, and pointed out to bemused fellow train travellers that he had negotiated the contract.
An enthusiastic motorist (he didn’t hang up his car keys until the age of 102), he got his first points on his licence at 98… for speeding!
He spent his centenary in Malaysia, making the trip out there with Peter.
Eddie joined the Probus Club of Kingston and New Malden when it was established in 1981, and was an enthusiastic member, attending monthly lunches (except on his frequent holidays) at Glenmore House, Surbiton, even after turning 105.
At the service, the Rev Graham Cocking revealed that Eddie joked that Probus stood for “the poor retired old buggers’ society”.
As the Methodists’ church organist (originally in Eden Street – site of today’s Primark, then in the more modern building on the Fairfield), he persisted in his view that brevity was the most important quality when it came to the length of any service.
Mr Cocking told of the time that the minister, conscious of his organist’s preference, announced that he would be restricting his address to just six sides.
‘Why don’t you start on page 5?’ came the shout from behind the organ!
In his day, an enthusiastic opening bat for a Lancashire village cricket team (with an average run rate up in the 70s), Eddie was also interested in gardening, the Red Cross and old people’s welfare, and was a terrible, but enthusiastic, poet, regularly composing verses for pals’ birthdays.
His personality was in his organ playing, said Mr Cocking. “He played with love and conviviality. He was totally reliable, a tremendous flirt and a character full of humour,” he said. “He was one of Christ’s own. He loved his church, and there is joy in a long life well-lived.”
His explanation for his amazing longevity? “All things in moderation,” he would say. “Age is not important; it’s all about how you feel.”