Obituary by Ivor B.N. Smith
Geoffrey Leonard Smith was born in the Romford area in July 1932 and went on to become a pupil at Ilford County High School from 1943 to 1950. At that time chess was already widely played throughout the school and there is little doubt that Geoffrey reached a good standard of play before moving on to University in London and it was there that he secured a 1st class honours degree in mathematics. He went on to a successful career as a Patent Agent, becoming a partner in a firm in due course.
After leaving University we do know that Geoffrey completed National Service which at that time and until 1960 was still a requirement. Marriage to his wife Margaret took place in Ilford in July 1958 and by now Geoffrey was already playing chess for the Old Parkonians1 and it was at one of the club’s meetings that we met for the first time.
I remember how Geoff, seven years older than me, was always so welcoming and helpful when members of the school chess club were first invited to turn out for the Old Parkonians. In my case that was in October 1956, on bottom board against Leyton in Division 1 of the Essex League and I was only considered good enough to play because of a late withdrawal. My game was unfinished on the evening but subsequently adjudicated as a win for me. The match result was 5-5. How things have changed! Like so many clubs from those far off days neither Old Parkonians nor Leyton still exist.
Thanks to cuttings of Tommy George’s chess column in the Ilford Recorder we now have information about some of the matches that Geoffrey played in during the 1960s. For example, in December 1963 the Old Parkonians were paired against a very strong six board West Ham team in the National Club Championship, Round 2. I was on board 2 and Geoffrey on board 5 and we both lost and not surprisingly the team as well. This must have been one of Geoffrey’s last games for the Old Parkonians for by now he and Margaret had moved from Ilford, first to Billericay and then sometime after that to Hutton Mount, near Brentwood.
Joe Rosenberg, now a member of the Wanstead club, also played for the Old Parkonians and remembers the kind invitations from Geoffrey and Margaret to their house in Billericay in 1962/1963. These took place with other members of the club on Saturday afternoons/evenings for social chess accompanied with very generous hospitality.
By 1963 Geoffrey was playing regularly for Brentwood, firstly in Division 2 of the Essex League between then and 1966, followed by matches in Division 1 until 1971 and beyond.
Geoffrey took on the role of ECA General Secretary from about 1963 until 1973 after which he took on the role of chairman until 1979. After that he became President until 1984.
At the ECA AGM in 1984 the meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to retiring President G.L. Smith for his many years of service to the Association.
A measure of his very positive enthusiasm on behalf of chess can be gauged by the fact that Geoffrey also became one of the original Managing Trustees of the David Wood Memorial Trust2 in 1969. He took on the roles of both Secretary and Treasurer. This continued until 1982 when Ian Hunnable took over as Secretary and Dave Eustace became Treasurer. Geoffrey continued as a Trustee until 1985.
Geoffrey and Margaret moved to Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire after Geoffrey’s decision to take early retirement after 1985. Previously, as an avid supporter of the Essex cricket team he then changed allegiance and was often to be seen at the New Road ground, supporting Worcestershire.
Ivor B.N. Smith
1 Old Parkonians – Prior to 1935 Ilford County High School had different venues and indeed different names including Park Grade, hence the name Old Parkonians Chess Club, exclusively for former pupils of the school. The club continued until 1984/85.
2 David Wood Memorial Trust – Original Managing Trustees – Roy A. Wagstaff (Founder), Ivor B.N. Smith, Geoffrey L. Smith, Ian D. Hunnable, John A. Chanin, Michael A. Wood. The Trust was founded by Roy Wagstaff in 1969 to promote and encourage Essex junior chess in memory of a fine young player who was tragically killed in a road accident.
Rod Johnson’s eulogy
I first met Geoff when I was aged about 14 or 15 (I think) and was a junior member of Brentwood Chess Club when Geoff joined the Club in the 1960s when it was based at a red-brick building near Brentwood High Street.
I particularly remember how friendly and encouraging he was to me as a young player amidst pipe-smoking oldsters! Thereafter I am happy to say we became friends (despite the 15 year age difference).
Geoff had the idea of hosting chess events for club members with generous refreshments in the garden at his home on Hutton Mount. These social events were something of an innovation at the Club, since some of the members were quite reserved and introverted! Geoff was a breath of warm fresh air. He was of course well-liked and respected not only at the Club but in Essex chess circles generally.
Geoff always seemed to me to be relaxed and laid back in his chess playing, but his friendly smile belied a steely determination not to lose and to score points for his team!
Geoff gave great and valued service to the Essex Chess Association for the game he loved, being General Secretary for many years and a founder member of the David Wood Memorial Trust, . His dedication to these roles was typical of him as I saw him.
There was very little Geoff did not know about the rules of the game and match playing regulations, and he was always willing to intervene authoritatively and effectively if disputes arose at one of our boards in team matches! He was always polite about it and I felt was a true gentleman in everything he did.
I was sorry we lost touch when he moved away from the county but I will always remember him with affection.
The vicar described him being regularly seen in his leather jacket on his motor bike going to his local pub in Chipping Camden, the Eight Bells.
He spoke of Geoff’s love of music and the conductors Sir Thomas Beecham and Bernard Haitink, and his interest in the training of young musicians, particularly where they were immobile. There was some mention of his love of chess, latterly coupled with Mah Jongg and brain teasing puzzles.
It was also mentioned that he still opened his garden to the community to host events.
I liked the caption used of Geoff – “a life well-lived” – and the emphasis on his kindness and encouragement to others (which is what I remember).