The RNLI saves lives at sea.

Tom And Mary Popper

Picture of Tom and Mary Popper.

Tom & Mary Popper

In memory of our Mum & Dad who loved the coast and supported all those who go down to the sea.

Tom and Mary were RNLI Life Governors and over the years attended the naming ceremonies of many lifeboats serving Northern Ireland. They supported many RNLI fundraising events and visited Poole HQ and the London AGM on several occasions. Tom’s RNLI long service statuette proudly adorns the mantelpiece of the family home in Belfast.

Tom’s family moved to Northern Ireland from Germany in 1936 when he was 12 and they started sailing at Royal North of Ireland YC the following year. Following an abridged Engineering Degree at Cambridge, Tom enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1943. He rose from Midshipman to Commander during the 2nd World War, serving on the aircraft carrier HMS Venerable in the Far East.

This was the start of Tom’s long association with the sea. After the war he remained an active member of the Volunteer Reserve based on HMS Caroline in Belfast and raced the family Lake sailing boat at Cultra.

Mary, née Ferguson, was born at Ballyvally House, Banbridge, County Down and met Tom through Ulster linen industry social contacts. They married in 1953 and had three children; Carolyn, Richard and David.

Tom introduced Mary to sailing, firstly in his parent’s Lake, before they purchased a Swallow (a small wet keelboat built for the 1948 Olympics in Torbay & still sailed in the Solent). With the arrival of their family they switched to racing an Enterprise dinghy.

Ill-health forced Mary to give up sailing, but she launched her family onto (and sometimes into) Belfast Lough in Cadets and the family Mirror dinghy. In 1971 she started the Mirror fleet at Royal North; the Club has since gone on to produce a World Champion.

As the family grew up and left home both Tom and Mary volunteered to help others in the province. Mary helped at the Ulster Hospital and worked tirelessly to promote sailing for the disabled. She was the Northern Ireland organiser for the Jubilee Sailing Trust and fundraised to help those injured in the troubles get afloat. She would always be first to the quayside to greet the JST’s Tall Ships when they called at an Ulster port (she had good contacts at the Belfast Coastguard).

Mary (and Richard) had the pleasure of a sail on the JST’s Lord Nelson during the 1992 Belfast Tall Ships Festival Parade of Sail. It was a spectacular sail down Belfast Lough in fresh winds, but unfortunately the planned rendezvous with a fishing boat off Bangor did not happen and Lord Nelson’s next stop was Scotland. Mary persuaded the Captain, who was a personal friend, to contact the local RNLI and we were transferred at some speed onto the Donaghadee Arun class lifeboat. It was her first and last lifeboat rescue.

Mary also supported RYA Belfast Lough Sailability based at Carrickfergus. The charity uses specially adapted boats to enable people of all abilities to enjoy the trill of sailing. She was presented to the charity’s Patron HRH Princess Anne in recognition of her contribution.

Tom was a regular volunteer for the Citizens Advice Bureau, and for 15 years with SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association). For many years he assisted with RNLI flag days and on his retirement became more heavily involved, eventually becoming Chairman of the Belfast branch. The post seemed to involve visiting bars in less savoury parts of the city to retrieve collection boxes before the money was put to a different use! Much to their delight Richard moved to Poole to lead the RNLI’s HQ-based fundraising in 2005.

Their last RNLI event was the naming ceremony for the current Bangor Atlantic 85 in 2007 (fortunately on a much drier day than when they watched Prince Edward name the previous Atlantic 21 in 1991).

They had many other interests and took part in regular fieldtrips to the Irish coast & countryside with the local ornithological, naturalist and geological societies. They were both keen gardeners, but as one of the mourners at Mary’s funeral commented; “they loved the sea and filled their garden not only with flowers but with boats”.

We are grateful to them for many things, not least the passion and respect they gave us for the sea and sailing.

Mary died in May 2009 and Tom in September 2010. Both are sorely missed by Carolyn, Richard & David and by their grandchildren James, Sophie, Nicola & Haydn.

Added by: Richard Popper on 4 January 2011.

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Picture of Tom and Mary Popper.
Picture of Tom and Mary Popper.

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The RNLI is a charity that provides a 24-hour lifesaving service around the UK and Republic of Ireland.

As a charity, the RNLI relies on your support to carry on saving lives at sea.

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