The members and staff of St Philips Chambers have recently lost a great friend and colleague, Tom Whitehead. To those who had the honour and privilege of knowing Tom well, the tragic and heavy news of his untimely passing will hit hard. Tom was an exceptional gentleman of extraordinary talent. From his early days at the Bar, it was obvious to anyone who had the pleasure of working with him (or the misfortune of being on the other side) that he was, indeed, well deserving of the “rising star” accolade others had bestowed upon him.
Tom made his headline career at the shipping Bar, but his skills and inimitable style, coupled with his unparalleled depth of knowledge on even the most obscure of points, meant that he was able to succeed and thrive in any arena he chose. That he did to devastating effect. In the relatively short time he was at the Bar, his case history is testament to that fact, littered as it is with outings to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court as well as numerous forays into foreign jurisdictions.
The simple fact is that Tom’s legal brain worked in ways others could not, which meant that he was in every respect formidable. Tom epitomised the fearless, supremely confident and “unflappable” advocate that most can only aspire to. Deceptively understated, his gentle and modest manner could easily disguise his ferocious intellect and frightening ability to persuade even the steadfastly opposed. Although in the main a quiet individual (unless faced with what he often and willingly described as “complete nonsense”), he cut an imposing, not to say intimidating courtroom figure. He was, in truth, a powerhouse of an advocate.
Tom always took time to talk to and encourage those starting out at the Bar for whom Tom was undoubtedly inspirational. While he did not say so in so many words, teaching and outreach were important to Tom, hence his (unobtrusively) signing Chambers up to various schemes which aimed to give poor students insight of and access to the Bar. A man with razor sharp wit, he was never without a wry smile or a knowing ‘twinkle’ in his eye. His humour was as dry as it was hilarious. His personality overwhelmingly infectious. When on form, watching him in full swing was entertainment second to none. A true delight.
Tom gave selflessly and completely to everything he took on. He would steadfastly defend and protect those he loved and the things closest to him with passionate, unapologetic vigour. The enormous time and effort he so generously invested in Chambers and keeping those around him sane and level headed is nothing short of heroic. He was an anchor of reason and calm in every imaginable circumstance. Those who saw him in recent weeks describe a man on truly remarkable form, well informed about Chambers and world affairs, with plenty of characteristically strong opinions to share on a range of matters.
At heart Tom was a very private and modest individual dealing with his illness with dignity and quiet strength. He was, first and foremost, a devoted husband to Miranda and a loving father to his two beautiful young daughters. The members and staff of St Philips Chambers all send our heartfelt thanks to all of Tom’s family for having shared Tom with us so generously over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all at this devastatingly difficult and sad time.
Tom’s family, friends and colleagues are naturally still coming to terms with his death, but plans are underway to honour his legacy with a Tom Whitehead Bursary. In lieu of sending flowers, please see this information about the proposed scheme.