The second person in our profession I wanted to write about is Tony Oxley, who died in September 2013. I first met Tony when I started out in medical photography in the late 1970’s when he worked for Kodak Limited and, along with his wife Thelma, he became a good friend. When he died in 2013, I was asked to give a eulogy at his funeral, something that I felt very honoured to do, so I reproduce it here.
Anthony Malcolm Oxley 1942–2013
It is a real privilege to be asked to say a few words about Tony – with apologies to people who knew him as Anthony but he was introduced to me as Tony Oxley, everyone I know in our profession of medical photography referred to him as Tony and it is difficult to break a long habit. I met him over 35 years ago (which is a slightly sobering thought) and I have regarded Tony as a real friend for all that time.
When Tony died, Graham phoned me to let me know and I made the announcement to IMI and other colleagues and many people either sent me a mail or phoned me and three words kept coming out: “gentleman”, “kind” and “generous”. Such a gentleman, so kind, so generous to everyone.
Tony was actually born in Summit, New Jersey, so this English gentleman was actually an American! In later years Tony used the word Summit as his call handle when he used CB radio as one of his latest gadgets. Tony never knew his father who was killed in 1941 while undergoing officer training in the RAF; his mother, who was half Swiss went to America to be with her brother and Tony was born there. It was January 1942 and wartime. Fortunately Tony was saved from developing a New Jersey accent as his mother came back to England with him in 1945, so he was brought up in a single parent environment and at the risk of stating the obvious, was very close indeed to his mother.
Eventually when Tony grew up he bought his first home in St Albans and he started working at Kodak in Hemel Hempstead in the medical division, involved in medical photography and illustration and that is where many people here will have known him. It was there that he met and married Thelma in 1973 who worked for many years as receptionist at Kodak and I remember walking into Kodak House and being greeted by Thelma.
My first meeting with Tony was fairly typical. I had started in medical photography at the age 21 and Tony visited the department I worked in and was going to take the head of department and another member of staff out to lunch. As the trainee, I was probably expected to stay there, hold the fort and let the senior staff go out and enjoy themselves, but Tony, being Tony, didn’t want me to feel left out, so extended the lunch invitation to me too. I am not sure my manager was too chuffed about that and I think the lunch was probably far shorter than it would have been if I hadn’t gone with them, but that was Tony’s style and consideration for others, especially juniors: he did not want anyone to feel excluded.
The same consideration applied all through his life. Tony would meet and greet people at South Audley Street where the RPS Medical Group used to meet. Tony would introduce people to others and ensure that everyone felt welcome and looked after. He really was a very considerate man.
Tony travelled the length and breadth of the UK with his work for Kodak and as an individual was known and welcomed in every medical illustration department he visited. His knowledge of film, processes, chemistry, radiography, invisible radiation and other areas was very thorough and his advice was sought continually. And if he didn’t know the answer, he knew a man who did. I know that when I was doing some work on 5071 Dupe Film he referred me to a specialist in Rochester, New York who phoned me and talked me through some of the testing I was doing. Tony set it up without a second thought. I have a lovely story from a colleague in Yorkshire who tells me that she phoned Tony some years back on his mobile to ask about Kodachrome processing and they had been talking for 20-or-so minutes before Tony let slip that he was actually in Switzerland and either on or by Lake Geneva. That mobile phone call probably cost her Trust a few hundred pounds but Tony was there on the end of a phone to talk to and even if he was on holiday; he was happy to take the call.
After leaving Kodak in the nineties he set up his own business and consultancy, supporting audiovisual presentations and conferences around the UK for medical institutions and colleges (especially Radiography and Orthodontics) and several other companies. He took great pride in this work. Tony, as many of you will know was very thorough and paid the greatest attention to the smallest detail.
He was recognised within medical photography and illustration. Tony was one of two Honorary Life Members of the Institute of Medical Illustrators and played a very active role from the 1970s onwards. He received the Norman K Harrison medal in 1983 from Gabriel Donald, who was Chairman at that time.
He was also a long-time supporter of the Royal Photographic Society Medical Group and served variously as Committee member, Secretary and Chairman over a long period of time. He received their Chairman’s Award for services to the Medical Group on two separate occasions.
He retired in 2005 but still led a very active life, having holidays abroad with Thelma, in particular a cruise on the last voyage of QE2 which had been a lifetime ambition. He had huge enjoyment from using his narrow boat on the Grand Union canal and took great pride in maintaining it. He and Thelma made many friends at the boat club near here.
There are some things about Tony that we will never forget. His attention to detail was intense, often quite maddening but let’s face it, if you wanted something doing well you asked Tony Oxley to do it. Thelma will have to forgive me here but just a couple of days after he died I was speaking to Thelma on the phone and she was upset (fairly obviously) but she came up with the amazing statement “Ooh, he did drive me mad at time, but I will miss him!!” which was an understatement on both counts, I think. Tony probably drove most of us mad at times but you have to respect a man whose attention to getting everything right was extraordinary and you could depend on him absolutely. I am told that when he was in his teens he had a Lambretta scooter (I’m quite envious, actually) and that he even took the chrome treads off the footrests in order to clean under them. Now that is attention to detail.
Another aspect is his care for other people. Tony became guardian to his cousin’s children and was a real figure of responsibility, stability, influence and comfort in their lives. He did his duty at parties and family occasions, even dressing up as Father Christmas when the children were young. He took a great interest in the children growing up, especially as they had lost their father, and at moments produced books for them to read about the birds and the bees, self-defence other things which he felt they should know.
In the 1990’s when his cousin had quite a long spell in hospital; Tony brought in a portable TV and rigged it up by her bed. He was so kind and would always help, He took his cousin in his car all over London looking for particular wallpaper when her living room wallpaper had come away from the wall due to someone leaving a tap on in the bathroom. But this was typical of his practical help.
Tony’s reputation within my own profession of medical illustration was one of respect, good if somewhat risqué humour, hilarious Spoonerisms and, as I have mentioned before, meticulous attention to detail.
Food. Didn’t he just love his food? I know in later years he had to be careful with his diet but he did relish good food and … gadgets: Tony just loved having the latest and greatest. I have worked on his computer with him where (I have to say) he didn’t always know what he was looking at but provided it was the cutting edge of PC technology then he was happy! He loved ice cream makers, waffle makers, the latest LED then LCD watches and all sorts of technology. I have this everlasting recollection of him in the Kennedy Lecture Theatre in the Institute of Child Health (late 1980’s or early 1990s) with the first mobile phone, an amazing block of battery and a phone coming out of the side. He did admit “I have to say, Simon, it’s a bit heavy to carry around!” but he was so proud to have it.
We all knew Tony’s laugh, especially when he heard, or told, a slightly risqué joke but he also, quite unwittingly, was the author of one of the more hilarious Spoonerisms ever produced. Picture a large number of medical photographers, a fair way on through the evening and round the bar, so all very relaxed and Tony, who has had coffee brewing in his suite for a while called everyone to attention and asked if anyone would like to have some coffee as he had had his ‘perky copulator’ on for the last hour or two.
The final thing I would like to close with however is a personal observation. As I said at the start, I have known Tony for 36 years, we knew each other personally, professionally and as good friends, not close-close but just people who knew they could talk easily, at any time and in confidence. In all that time I have never known Tony say a bad word about anyone else. Not once. In today’s society where one-upmanship and point-scoring is so prevalent, such a Christian attitude is just so lovely to appreciate. Tony respected everyone around him and they respected him. A real gentleman, very kind, really generous.