The Rev. Peter Thomson (OB 52)
Peter Thomson was a charismatic Anglican priest and social entrepreneur, also known for being a mentor and friend to the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Peter left school at 16 to collect rents for his father’s flourishing real estate business. But he felt the urge to make more of his privileged life so he went to Ridley Theological College in Carlton and was ordained in 1959. Peter’s first vicarage was in North Melbourne, where he installed a lounge and library for elderly parishioners and introduced jazz to services.
He also met Helen Sumpter, who was helping to paint the church basement. They married in 1961. The following year they moved to England, and returned to Melbourne in 1963. Peter taught mathematics at the local high school so that his stipend at St James' at Thornbury could pay off the church mortgage.
But this and his idea of raising further funds for the poor parish by also using the church as a hairdressing salon during the week - managed by Helen - was considered too entrepreneurial by the church hierarchy. He was warned to desist or face the sack. He continued and was duly sacked from the parish.
In 1969 Peter was appointed Chaplain at Timbertop (Geelong Grammar School). He went back to England for further study in 1974. There he left a great impression on two students at St John's College, Oxford. The future Prime Minister, Tony Blair was spellbound from the time he first encountered Peter. And Geoffrey Gallop, a Rhodes scholar, (Premier of WA 2000-06), who was part of the same circle at Oxford, found his life, faith and politics influenced by the larrikin vicar's take on Christianity and its daily application to solving human problems.
In 1975 Peter returned to Timbertop in the dual role of Chaplain and Principal, a role he held for several years.
He was also Master of St Mark’s College in the University of Adelaide, Dean of International House, Melbourne University, Master of the residential accommodation at Deakin University.
The year after Blair became Labour leader he spent his first Christmas outside Britain at the Thomson’s farm near Mansfield in Victoria’s high country. As Peter later said, “Things were happening for Tony and I wanted to be part of it.” So in 1996 he moved to Britain and became vicar of St Luke’s, West Holloway, North London.
In 1998, keen to foster a support network for like-minded social activists, Peter became involved in the Community Action Network in East London. In 2001 he returned again to Melbourne to play a similar role as Chaplain of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
Peter died in 2010 after a long battle with emphysema.