15 March 2023

Richard Bertram Thorpe FCOptom: 1923-2023

It is with sadness that we report the death of Richard Thorpe FCOptom.

Richard Thorpe was born into the well-known family firm of Lancaster & Thorpe, in Derby. His first job, in 1940, was surfacing lenses for the firm’s manufacturing arm. He maintained an interest in bringing the ophthalmic professions into closer relationship with the optical industry throughout his life and was vastly knowledgeable on the history of both. 

In the early part of the Second World War he worked in London for a manufacturer of binoculars (believe to have been the firm of Ross Ltd) whilst studying ophthalmic optics in the evenings. Returning to Derby in 1941, fire-watching duties encroached on his study time. In May 1942, aged 18, he took the part one of the old SMC Diploma. After completing further exams in 1943, he marched straight to the army recruitment office to the annoyance of his father and served in uniform for four years, rising to the rank of Sergeant. He eventually qualified as a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (FSMC) in November 1947. In this period he also studied economics and accounting under an Army-sponsored scheme, which would stand him in good stead as Managing Director of Lancaster & Thorpe Ltd (of which his eldest brother was now Chairman). He carried out some sight-testing but also had to manage the group's Spot Rubber Company. He practised optometry in St Peter’s Street, Derby, and then, from the mid-1960s, on Friar Gate in that town.

He was a former Secretary and, like his elder brother before him, Chairman of the Society of Opticians (1965-68) - the protective professional body for corporate organisations - that later merged to co-establish FODO. The latter appointed him an Honorary Member in 1990. 

As a representative of the Spectacle Makers, he sat on the Provisional Council that oversaw the formation of the College in the late 1970s and continued to sit on its inaugural Council from 1980-1983, fulfilling the role of College Treasurer from 1980-1982. This was a busy period for him, as he rose simultaneously through the ranks of the Spectacle Makers’ Court, attaining the post of Renter Warden in 1977 and culminating as Master for a two-year term from 1981-1983. During his time as Master Spectacle Maker he oversaw the transition of optical technicians’ training to the WCSM in 1981 and launched the newsletter, ‘From the Master & Wardens’, which he continued to edit until 1990. 

From 1977 he was also Managing Director of the family holding business, the Peak Trust. Although he stopped practising optometry in 1988, after a demerger of the group businesses in 1992 he continued to manage the photographic side for several more years. He died peacefully at home on 1 March, three months short of what would have been his 100th birthday.