Ted McKenzie, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, died at the end of June, just a few weeks short of his centenary on 10 August.
A confirmed bachelor, he moved to Freshbrook in 1978 to retire to a brand new house at Chalgrove Field after a life roaming the world.
In 2006 The Link learnt more of Ted’s life of adventure – see below. He spoke enthusiastically about living in suburban Swindon and was a fan of modern technology. He always carried a mobile phone and at the age of 91 received an award from Swindon College for mastering computers and the internet. He was in touch with friends around the world by e-mail.
But then he was very much a man of the world. He was brought up in Edwardian England and followed his famous journalist father into Fleet Street, though working on the production side of the Daily Mirror.
He had learnt to fly in the 1930s and on the outbreak of World War II was sent to train pilots in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. At war’s end he was awarded the MBE for services to flying. In fact he had developed a flying technique still in use today, where the pilot feathers the propeller to reduce speed and distance on landing.
He later worked in Nigeria and once drove across the Sahara desert. On retirement in 1961 he travelled the world, and sailed extensively between Europe and the Americas. He later toured Britain and France in a mobile caravan as a hotel inspector for the RAC until he was seventy.
“Ted was such a gentle, polite and private man,” said Ken Vyvash, his immediate neighbour for twenty five years. “We didn’t know a lot about his past until we read about him in The Link. Sadly we didn’t find out that he’d gone until we heard noises next door to find his house was being cleared. He was so independent that we thought he had gone away for a few weeks like he used to do. He was still driving his car until a few weeks before he died.”
Ted would have enjoyed receiving his telegram from the Queen and we’re very sorry that we could not report his 100th birthday.
From SwindonLink February 2006
Old school gentleman with modern outlook
Lucy Proctor meets a 98 year old with a wealth of memories still very much in touch with the world around him
Ted Mackenzie’s living room in Freshbrook tells a tale in itself. A magnificent wooden Korean chest stands beneath the stairs. A signed copy of a Jack London novel sits on the bookshelves alongside a collection of sailing books. Desert roses from the Sahara and an Edwardian calling card are kept safe in a cupboard.
The neat little house tucked away in Chalgrove Fields is where 98-year-old Ted chose to finally settle down after a lifetime of adventure and change, travelling the world.
Upstairs is his computer, an important part of his more recent life in Swindon where he has gained a degree of fame for his interest in modern technology. He was presented with an award from Swindon College for being their oldest student to complete a computing course when he was 91, and a search for his name on Google churns out several articles on the subject.
“They made a terrific fuss of me! It was quite ridiculous,” he recalled. “I was even given two thirds of the centre page of the Times Education Supplement, not for being clever but for being old.”
He regularly keeps in touch with friends and family, including a great-niece in China, via e-mail, and he always carries his mobile phone. On Satellite Navigation Systems he voices the awe and frustration of many – “I love them but I hate them.”
Ted’s brother-in-law farmed the very land on which Fresh-brook is built. Ted moved into his home when it was new, in 1978, and has watched the area grow out of green fields. He remembers a close community, where any new person to arrive in this urban village was called upon, and after all this time, he still thinks it’s a great place to live.
“What a lovely place Freshbrook is to live in. We have shops, a post office, a church, school, a dentist and a doctors, a pharmacy – I can’t think of anything we need.”
He is also a huge fan of the new Great Western Hospital. “They seem to be trained to be charming, as if they were trying to sell you something, and you’re never kept waiting,” he says of the staff.
His enthusiasm for such an ordinary area of an ordinary town is surprising given his colourful life story. Ted was born in Edwardian England in 1908, in the days of impeccable manners and the Empire. His father was a brilliant journalist, a one-time colleague of the infamous Jack London in Siberia and Manchuria and among the first to report on the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. Ted was brought up to be a newspaperman, and entered Fleet Street as a young man working on production for the Daily Mirror.
When war broke out in 1939 life changed for everyone. Having learnt to fly before the war, Ted became a link trainer instructor, teaching pilots to fly on the ground in what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He was awarded an MBE for services to flying at New Year in 1945, a fact he likes to keep secret, “I didn’t know I was going to get it – it came out of the blue.”
Ted resumed his newspaper career in 1948 when he went to West Africa. He spent a year getting the Nigerian Daily Times up to Fleet Street standards before joining the colonial service. He then lived in Kaduna in Northern Nigeria until 1961, leaving after the country gained independence from British rule. As Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Trade and Industry Ted got to know and love Nigeria and other parts of Africa well – he once drove 3,000 miles across the Sahara in a Land-rover.
On leaving Africa Ted bought himself a yacht and embarked on a two-year sailing trip. During this time he travelled the world, sailing across the Atlantic, visiting the Caribbean, exploring the English coastline and crossing to France, almost a second home to him, whenever he pleased.
This love of freedom was too strong to give up, but Ted knew he couldn’t go on sailing around without reason, and decided to find a job to last him into retirement. He then began his favourite period of his life, as an RAC hotel inspector in Southern England, Wales and France. He toured the country in a mobile caravan, stopping off at hotels and B and B’s, until he was 70.
Ted said, “I was completely independent, just driving around. Nobody could tell me what to do. And I love this part of the country.”
Ted’s adventurous days might be over, but he has his extraordinary memories whilst the internet gives him windows on the world whenever he pleases.