Thomas Leece (OK 2008) died September 11, 2022
Tom was born in Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, on 6 March 1990, the younger son of John and Kate Leece and brother of James. He attended Homefield Preparatory School in Sutton from 1995 and then moved to King’s College School in Wimbledon with an Exhibition in 2003. He enjoyed his school years, and his tutor wrote on his leaving that ‘There is never a dull moment when Tom is around. He possesses a wonderfully dry and witty sense of humour, whilst harbouring a great sense of determination and drive to succeed…Tom has had a successful and busy time at KCS, and he has won many friends, both among staff and his peers, with his courteous disposition, helpful nature and sense of humour.
Tom’s passion for reading and writing, and for history in particular, developed early, and he read voraciously as a child. His tutor said ‘Of course, History is his particular fancy, and he has excelled in this area throughout his school career, from obtaining a top A* at GCSE to his offer to study History at Oxford’.
Tom left King’s in 2008, having much enjoyed his school years both for the intellectual stimulus and for the friendships he made, which endured throughout his life. He also left with an impressive top score of 45 in the International Baccalaureate.
Outside school, Tom always enjoyed a busy social life and was often involved in arranging gatherings, including themed events, where adopting different characters and dress was required to maximise the fun and the opportunities for photos, which he loved to collect. There is, therefore, a colourful record of many of these occasions.
His academic career at Oxford matched his success at IB, and he gained First Class Honours in History in 2011. His passion for his subject was infectious, and he managed to be as much the life and soul of the library study breaks as college bops, and he acquired a wide circle of friends with whom he developed very strong bonds, one of whom said ‘being a friend of Tom’s is to be, in some way, at the very centre of his life.’ During his years in Oxford, he also wrote articles, including film reviews, for The Oxford Student magazine. He then stayed for a fourth year to complete a Master of Studies in Modern British and European History in 2012 at Mansfield College, Oxford.
Following university, with considerable talent and passion for writing, Tom then embarked on a career in journalism. For a short time, Tom was a film and TV editor at Fourth & Main magazine and a freelance TV critic, reviewing the series ‘Borgen’ for The Independent in 2013. He subsequently became a trainee sub-editor at the Daily Mail. He took the Press Association’s course in News and Features subbing and design, where he found his true passion and use for his talents in production journalism. Moving to the London Evening Standard in 2014, he rose up the ranks quickly, becoming a senior sub-editor, working on the front page and rolling stories such as the 2017 terror attacks in London, the General Election and the Grenfell Tower fire. During this time, he lived with a rotating cast of friends in Lexham Mews in Earl’s Court. The place developed its own lexicon, with Christmas becoming Lexmas. Lexham became known for the quality of its suppers and the joy of its parties. Despite having the smallest room, Tom drew up a complicated formula to demonstrate that, in fact, he got the most value for money out of his rent based on the time spent at home playing board games, baking cheesecakes and hosting film nights.
Tom had long considered The Times as the foremost ‘journal of record’ and felt that working for The Times would be his next career goal. He initially began working there as a freelancer on the Comment section in 2017 before subsequently joining as permanent staff in April 2018. Tom was excited by the fact that, in addition to informing and entertaining readers, he was creating, as he put it, ‘a primary source’ for future historians. His breadth and depth of knowledge impressed colleagues and stories, such as how he was able to politely correct a distinguished historian on a detail about 18th century Russia which the academic had got wrong, became an office legend.
Tom was a chief sub-editor at The Times at the time of his death and was much loved and respected in the newsroom. Of the many letters and cards received from his colleagues at all levels since this death, the consistent theme is how highly talented and brilliant he was, with a great future ahead of him, whilst also being kind, popular and supportive.
It was Tom’s interest in people and the detail of their lives which made the past feel so present to him, and which helped him to bring it so vividly to life for others. He had a way of making historical events seem as relevant and as interesting as current affairs. In 2018 he began writing what he envisaged as a trilogy of novels based on the life of Sir Thomas Fairfax. He was drawn to this overlooked figure who was on both sides of the civil war at different stages of his life. At 32, as Commander-in-Chief of the New Model Army, Fairfax played a key role in defeating the Royalists. Later, he was instrumental in restoring the monarchy. Tom didn’t get to finish this project but he wrote enough to immerse himself in the life of another Thomas who lived four hundred years before him.
Tom was a very disciplined and talented scholar of history and having for some time written for pleasure, in 2020 he decided to undertake a part-time PhD whilst working at The Times. He accepted an offer from Cambridge University, to research the awarding of knighthoods in the Caroline period (17th century) with a view to furthering our understanding of the role of honours in British culture and society. He was accepted by Trinity Hall college as one of their postgraduate students.
At the time of his death Tom had very successfully completed his first year. He hugely enjoyed his discussions with his supervisor and had been researching material in the National Archive of Scotland in August 2022, whilst also attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the support of a friend who was performing there. His excitement at reading a handwritten letter from Charles I was palpable as he shared his delight.
His intellectual abilities went far beyond his talent for history, and were always evident in his passionate enthusiasm for criticism and debate whether of deep political crises, the form of T S Eliot’s poetry, or the latest hit TV series. As a close friend said, his abilities were ‘the product of a mind which was both free-thinking and steeped in a rich (and intimidatingly detailed) sense of history. His memory was the stuff of legend but he carried all that knowledge very lightly, and offered it up like a gift in every conversation.’
Tom travelled widely in his enthusiasm to see new places, visit friends, and understand the world and society better. He had undertaken an exchange with a student from Russia whilst at school, and travelled to the US and China with family and friends. He had travelled widely in Europe including a memorable trip to Albania. In 2019 he and his future wife, Jessica, had visited in Tanzania. He was an enthusiastic skier and would jump at the chance to hit the slopes.
Tom was also a keen cyclist and often cycled long distances across London to meet friends. He hugely enjoyed cycling from Paris to Geneva in 2018 and had hoped to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2020 but the pandemic prevented the trip from going ahead. A group of his friends hope to undertake the route in 2024 in his memory. He also loved being out on the river, and had many adventures with friends on the Cherwell, the Wye, the Thames, the Wey and even the Wandle, in his own kayak.
Amongst Tom’s other enthusiasms was Bruce Springsteen. He had seen ‘the Boss’ perform at least ten times, including in venues across Europe, and had booked tickets on two dates for his Hyde Park concerts in July 2023.
Whilst 2013 was significant for the start of his career, it was also in January of that year that he sat beside the woman who was to become his wife eight years later. Before the meal that led to their first date, she knew of him only as the one who exclaimed ‘I’ll say a Hail Mary for you’ after a few drinks. Jessica Ferguson was intrigued by the guy who quoted from Dubliners for a laugh on a night out, before even encountering his 6-feet and 5-inch frame. Long walks, loud singalongs and laughter-filled weekends exploring England’s countryside and stately homes were the backdrop to their early relationship. Jessica later described that she fell in love with a man that ‘goes on more dates with his friends than with me’, with ‘someone whose anecdotes get funnier the more times you hear them. Someone with an intimidating amount of knowledge, who has surprisingly high EQ but surprisingly bad table manners. A person who describes water as ‘the good stuff’, whose thirst for life is unquenchable who is articulate, sensitive and romantic, caring, ambitious, talented.’
In 2019 they got engaged and despite all of the interruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic, they celebrated their wedding very happily in Oxford at University College in August 2021 surrounded by their many friends and family, including a core group of friends from KCS. To his immense relief, by that August all Covid-19 restrictions were removed and so, to his delight, guests could enjoy an evening of dancing.
Aside from his intellectual powers, Tom had an enormous generosity of spirit, attentive curiosity, great humour and a sense of fun, which is very much remembered in anecdotes told by his friends and family in the many letters written about him in the weeks following his death. Other references were made to his dress sense and desire to achieve sartorial elegance when given the opportunity, and especially at weddings where he delighted in being a self-styled ‘impact guest’. He was variously referred to as ‘the best dressed man in the newsroom’ by his boss at the Times, and as ‘the best dressed man on a munro’ by friends when walking in Scotland.
His loss will always be the most terrible tragedy for his wife Jessica, his parents, his older brother James, and for his wider family and many dear friends.
Tom’s funeral was held on 19 October 2022 at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, (the journalists’ church), which was packed with many of his journalist colleagues in attendance, as well as his family and friends.
Thomas Robert John Leece was born on 6 March 1990. He died in a road traffic accident on 11 September 2022 aged 32. He is buried in Richmond Cemetery.
Obituary kindly provided by John and Kate Leece.
Additional memories of Tom Leece at King’s from Will Robertson, Tom’s close school friend:
To his many friends at school, Tom was loyal, caring and – most importantly – hilarious on a daily basis. He made close friends from every corner of the Common room, with the ‘jocks’ and ‘swots’ alike, the KCSJ alumni and the incomers, the bad boys and his fellow prefects. He had a special ability to create shared traditions with his friends and make little moments important. His incredible memory was a source of anecdotes, quotations and in-jokes that endured and deepened over the years. He could usually recall the moment you first met each other, all the funniest episodes from your weekend misadventures, and your important self-pitying conversations about Putney High girls (which you hoped he would forget).
There is hardly a street in Wimbledon that isn’t the scene of a funny or formative moment in the history of schoolboy Tom. He had a wonderful capacity for benign mischief combined with an inability to lie, which meant that his ‘guilty and apologetic face’ was on regular display to authority figures. In the years when pubs and clubs were tricky to get into, Tom was a committed host of all-night video-gaming nights and film marathons (with specialisms in sci-fi, violent thrillers and Lord of the Rings).
Always a good student, it seemed that in the sixth form his academic potential really flourished. He was brilliant at history, literature and languages, and he could sweep others along in his enthusiasm and dedication. He had a great interest in 20th century China and Russia, and could quote or riff off Hardy, Virgil and Cicero with giddy excitement. He was less of a natural at Maths but he worked very hard in every subject and was righty proud of achieving a perfect 45 in the IB, with 100% in some papers. As Mr Howland’s Valedictory Report says, ‘there was never a dull moment with Tom in the classroom’. Upon leaving King’s he made sure to write to some of the teachers who inspired him along the way, such as Mr Allen, Mr Carroll and Mr Chapman.
After a couple of years at King’s, Tom rapidly grew to become very tall and skinny. He could mine a rich vein of physical comedy, with much flailing of limbs and mimed explosions. He was a wit rather than a class clown, but he did have a flair for performance. One of his school highlights was participating in a one-off KCS Comedy Night. Walking home to Mayfield Road afterwards, his every nerve was jangling with the adrenaline and joy that came from a cheering audience. Tom’s immense appetite struck fear into the hearts of dinner ladies and friends’ mothers. His metabolism and hollow legs were the stuff of legend, and he often found ingenious ways to bypass the lunch hall queue. [Finally,] Tom was an enthusiastic contributor to community service projects like conservation on Wimbledon Common, and teaching Latin to local primary pupils. As well as fulfilling his caring instincts, these were another rich source of the stories and the friendships that were so important to his school years.
Will Robertson (OK 2008)