For some years now I have spent five days at the end of May in Alton, Hampshire, as it is a more convenient launchpad from which to attend the PGA Golf Championship at Wentworth than making a very early morning start from North Somerset. When I became Membership Secretary of the BDAA I noted that one of our members, Tony Chivers, lived just outside Alton and it was always in the back of my mind that I should look him up whilst there. Somehow, however, I never did. It was only this year when an e-mail was being drafted to encourage the 2015 graduates to join the BDAA that I came across the fact that there were one or two members with graduation dates in the 1950’s and this prompted me to find out who they were. It so happened that Tony Chivers was one of them, having graduated in 1951, so this year I decided to give him a visit.
Medstead is a village on the outskirts of Alton and, as I later found out, Tony was a very active and prominent member of the local community there. I found the house, rang the doorbell and was greeted by someone who looked a little on the young side of what I would have expected for a 1951 graduate. Having announced the purpose of my visit, the response was “I’m sorry, but you’re just too late, Tony died a few days ago”. As I then found out, Tony was in his 95th year at the time of his death (!) and the three people in the house were there to arrange the details of his funeral. They kindly invited me in for a chat and it was during this that I became aware that I had just missed meeting a remarkable and interesting man. The following is a brief account of his life and achievements.
Tony was born in Somerset in 1920, where he received his early education at a small private school. He went from there to a school in Gloucestershire where he developed an interest in running. His potential in this area was quickly spotted and it wasn’t long before he was competing at the English Schools Athletics Championships where, at the age of 16, he came third in the mile race. He was equally competent academically and gained entry to Bristol University to study Dentistry in 1939. Whilst in his first year, Tony joined the Territorial Army and was almost immediately called up to join the war effort. The first combat that he experienced, however, was as a boxer and he soon became the brigade champion.
The war years obviously put his main sporting activity on hold and Sergeant Chivers was assigned to an anti-aircraft battery in Bristol during the blitz. From there he joined the Army Flying Corps and, after seven hours of training, he was considered good enough to fly solo. In time he added a skill as a reconnaissance photographer and used this to obtain such good pictures of the bridge at Arnhem that these were used to aid the Canadian Army advance on it. This gained him a commendation from his brigade.
Tony returned to civilian life at the end of the war having attained the rank of Captain. It was time to resume his studies at Bristol and his running activities. While still a student, he represented England in the Five Nations Cross Country Championship, finishing third. He then went on to win the British Six Mile Championship in 1948 and just missed out on representing his country at the London Olympics through injury. There then followed a period of selection for the national team. He ran the 5000m for the British Empire team against the USA, coming fifth, and won at the same distance for Great Britain against France in Paris. In 1950 Tony was selected to run in the Empire Games in New Zealand, winning the bronze medal in the three-mile race and coming sixth in the mile. Through all of this, he still maintained his studies and, as many did in those days, preceded his BDS with an LDS, being awarded the Dental Gold Medal in the former.
After qualification he spent a year in practice in Bath before setting up on his own in Chandlers Ford in Hampshire. While in the process of building up his new practice, Tony also worked part-time in the Community Dental Service and he maintained a link with this until, in 1975, he had to make the choice of whether or not he put all his energies into expanding the general practice or look for a more permanent position in his part-time role. This came with his appointment of Senior Dental Officer in Hampshire, in which he thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of treating patients with disabilities.
From very early on in his career Tony had taken an active role in the local BDA. He was Secretary and then Chairman of the Southampton Branch and this led to him becoming Treasurer and then President of the Wessex Branch Council. He served as President for ten years and, in 1982 was made a Fellow of the BDA. During his time with the BDA, Tony became aware that the Benevolent Fund had no provision to help those who volunteered for service within the Fund’s activities but who subsequently had financial difficulties through their own ill health. He set up a trust fund to help these individuals and managed to attract monies from various sources including the Ministry of Health. Thus it was that he was responsible for setting up the Dental Health Support Trust in 1991. This was entirely separate from the BDA Benevolent Fund and Tony became its founding Chairman. He was awarded an MBE for his services to Dentistry in 1996 and subsequently, on retirement from the Trust, was made a Life Trustee.
Tony’s sporting activities continued throughout his working life and into retirement. He was a founding member of the Medstead Tennis Club and was made a life member of this, having the club pavilion named in his honour after he raised funds to have it rebuilt following an unfortunate fire. Running however was at the beginning and end of his remarkable life. In 2012, at the age of 92, Tony became one of the oldest torchbearers to run a stage for the Olympic games and he regularly walked his dog for about two miles each day right up to the time of his death.