Tom Harding Danaher
May 2, 1924 - September 12, 2014

"The embodiment of America and a damn great flier" – Steven Spielberg

Many people who have contributed to this memorial page for Tom have spoken of the huge debt of gratitude that we owe him and his fellow founders and backers, for bringing Radio London to the UK. He had no idea at the time how massively successful the station would be, but he was always proud of its achievements.

I first met Tom in 1997, when he came to the UK with his fellow founder, Ben Toney, to visit the month-long broadcast from the Yeoman Rose off Walton-on-the-Naze, commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Radio London close-down. It was such a thrill when the tender arrived to bring my heroes aboard.

(Left) Tom examines an audio cart of 'London My Hometown' aboard the Yeoman Rose

A few years later, Chris and I launched the Radio London company and website and Tom became a great supporter. He wrote:"I could not possibly thank you enough for keeping the blood, sweat and tears fresh and alive. Without you, Radio London would merely be an ever-fading, occasional memory."

Tom felt as honoured as did we were, to be invited to attend the reunions for the USS Density WWII shipmates. Tom related to the men over a strong bond to a ship that had been immensely important to them all. As a pilot, he had been in the air over Pearl Harbour, protecting the Density and her crew and companion vessels as they swept for mines; years later, he had prepared the ship for a new life as the mv Galaxy and a new battle to bring US-style radio to the UK.

Ben Toney recalled, in his memoirs, his first meeting with 'a very greasy man' in Miami - greasy because Tom was in the throes of kitting-out the Galaxy for her voyage to the UK: "Just as Don (Pierson) and I stepped aboard the ship, a very greasy man came up through one of the hatches. Don said, 'Ben, I would like for you to meet my partner Tom Danaher'. Tom wiped his hands as best he could and extended a still grimy right hand, which I shook.

Tom was a mild, soft-spoken person who was very thoughtful in his business pursuits. Don was the exact opposite. Don was a high roller who displaced anyone or anything that got in his way. Tom and Don were like fire and water, and it was hard to imagine them as business partners."

However, despite their different personalities, Tom and Don were lifelong friends, as Don's son Grey emphasises in his own tribute below.

Tom had an incredible life. He would happily relate his stories of amazing feats of aviation, both as a pilot in WWII and Korea and as a stunt flyer in numerous movies, but he never spoke in a boastful manner. His movie credits included 'Goldeneye', 'Out of Africa' and 'Empire of the Sun'. Myself and a group of friends from the USS Density reunion in Branson, Missouri, went to the local Imax theatre to watch 'Ozarks - Legacy and Legend' because Tom appeared in it. It was not the most riveting of films but we cheered when we saw Tom fly a couple of the actors in his plane and we stayed right to the end to applaud his name on the end credits!

In 1988, Tom was inducted into the Airport Journals' 'Living Legends of Aviation', although this was not how such a modest man would would have described himself. He shares the honour with the likes of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Tom said he had stopped counting the number of times he had flown the Atlantic after he reached 100. The 'living legend' whose home was an apartment above the hangar at his private airfield, continued flying till the age of 86. Whilst in England, visiting the Farnborough Air Show, he unfortunately suffered a stroke from which he never recovered fully. Jerry Lips has posted in the Memorial Book that there will be a special 'Flown West' tribute to Tom at the Annual Legends Awards, January 16th, 2015.

The last time we met was at the Fort Worth premiere of Grey Pierson's 'Swinging Radio England' film. Tom was unable to stay and chat, as he was anxious to return to his beloved Shirley, who was unwell. He was invited to my 60th birthday party in London, but was unfortunately unable to attend. Tom made a difference to the world in so many ways and will be remembered with much fondness and gratitude.

Mary Payne

Letter received after my first meeting with Tom in 1997.
In it, Tom refers to Chris Payne as 'Fluff', to avoid confusion with Chris Elliot and Chris Baird.

Tributes Received

Grey Pierson, son of Tom's friend and business partner Don

I first met Tom Danaher in 1957 at the Mount Royal Hotel in London.  He and my father, Don Pierson, had come to England to attend an event for Hillman dealers – which, at the time, they [Tom and my father] were.  Even though I was only six years old, I remember Tom because he gave me the model Hillman car that he had received at the event (it was subsequently melted by the Texas heat sitting in my window at home).

My father and Tom hit it off immediately, and it wasn't long before they began plunging into one venture – and adventure – after another. Among other things, they owned Volkswagen dealerships and jointly pursued a number of overseas business endeavours both before, and after, their pirate radio days.

In many ways, they were quite similar. Both loved flying and had Texas-sized personalities (each could make a new friend, anywhere and under any circumstances, in two minutes flat). But there were some notable differences. Don Pierson was more creative and visionary, but was sometimes oblivious to details and logistics. Tom Danaher had a rebellious streak, but was always cognisant of practicalities – and he was absolutely brilliant in matters involving engineering and mechanics (an area in which Don was lost). Together, they were formidable indeed.

Since I've known Tom Danaher all of my life, it would be easy to fill page after page with memories. For now, I will share one of my favorite Tom Danaher stories.

As World War II neared conclusion in August 1945, Tom was serving as a Navy (or Marine, I don't recall which) fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. During a patrol, Tom sighted and shot down a Japanese 'Betty' bomber. The surrender was announced almost immediately after Tom returned to the ship; the war was over and Tom had fired one of the last shots (perhaps the last shot from the air).

A few weeks later, Tom found himself assigned to occupation duty at a former Japanese air base. Being the curious type, he began exploring and happened to locate an intact, virtually brand-new Japanese fighter plane that had been artfully concealed in vegetation. According to Tom, the plane was the intended successor to the Mitsubishi Zero (I believe he identified it as a 'Shiden' or 'Shinden').

After finding the hidden aircraft, Tom was determined to fly it. To successfully do so, however, required the assistance of an interpreter, since all instruments and flight control markings were, naturally, in Japanese. So Tom went to the command center at the base where he requested, and was assigned, a translator. The Japanese translator was and, as it turned out, had been based at the airfield in question.

Moreover, when they arrived at the site of the hidden plane, the translator revealed that he, like Tom, had served as a fighter pilot, and that the concealed warbird had been his personal aircraft.

Tom figured out how to fly the plane, but was stopped on the taxiway prior to takeoff. He then received a stern lecture from the base commander about the foolishness of his actions. Had he succeeded in becoming airborne, Tom would have been shot down as an 'enemy combatant'. But through this abbreviated adventure, Tom became friends with the translator. Good friends. Very good friends. So much so, that Tom returned to Japan repeatedly in later years to see his dear friend, and the translator and his family visited Tom in Texas.

It took a long time for the story to come out, but after their friendship was secure the translator told Tom that there was something he needed to share. Tom's friend had participated in the raid on Pearl Harbor. In fact, he had been in the first attack wave. Although not the designated attack leader, he had piloted the first plane that flew over Pearl Harbor and had probably dropped the first bomb.
They remained the closest of friends until the translator's death a few years ago.

I find it ironic, and uniquely uplifting, that two former enemies — the man who fired the first shot of the war and the man who may have fired the last — found it in their hearts to become steadfast, lifelong friends. How typical of Tom Danaher.

Ben Toney, Radio London's first Programme Director

I think we all know what a great contribution Tom Danaher made to the success of Radio London. However, I had a few private experiences with Tom that most of his friends are not aware.

On a number of occasions Tom would come to Ft. Worth to visit me and his old friend E.E. Stell. Both Tom and Double E had been pilots during WWII. They were both built for speed. Double E had built himself a hotrod from an old Model A Ford, and on one occasion we took a flying trip down to the barbecue restaurant at an ungodly speed. I was hanging on for dear life while Tom and Double E were having the time of their lives. They were both in their eighties at the time, but you would have thought they were a couple of teenagers.

(Left) Ben and Tom at the USS Density Reunion, Dallas

Another time Double E and I met Tom in Mineral Wells for barbecue. A short distance from Mineral Wells was a small village  called Cool. Tom had invested in the manufacture of some tri-motorcycles being manufactured there. These vehicles were built with VW engines which gave them tremendous power. Fortunately, they were not quite ready for use, so I didn't have to fly down the highway with Tom and Double E.

Tom was a great friend and one of the very best persons I have ever known. Thank you Tom for being a part of my life.

Mark Roman, Big L DJ

In 1997 I met one of the men who were responsible for the career path that much of my life followed, well actually two, Ben Toney and Tom Danaher. Without Tom and of course Don Pierson, whose son Grey I also met in 1997, Radio London would never have been launched and become the basis from which all modern commercial radio has developed. Tom was a fascinating man, his exploits as a fighter and stunt pilot, were enthralling, and all delivered in a matter-of-fact, modest way. But then, that's a Texan for you. Easy going and confident, Tom's most memorable expression was "Ain't that neat!". I still have a photo of me on Walton Pier together with Tom and Ben, pinned to my wall board, so I see it every day.

(Right) Mark and Tom aboard the Yeoman Rose

When asked about his contribution to the beginning of the Legend that is Big Lil, (Tom liked that name, created by Kenny Everett) he summed it all up very simply by saying, "Everything that folded, Don handled. Everything that bent, I handled." Considering the major engineering challenges that they faced, that is the greatest understatement of all time.

I last saw Tom seventeen years ago and yet he still lives in my memory. That should tell you just what an impressive man he was. A typical Texan, amiable, humorous, confident, capable and courageous, You need a lot of courage to buy an old boat, sail it across the Atlantic, start a Radio station, and change broadcasting "a la BBC" forever!

Via con dios, Tom! And muchisimo Gracias! That's what they say in Texas. So next time you eat TexMex food think of Tom!

Norm St John, Big L DJ

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Danaher. He was a great man and founded what ultimately became the BEST Radio Station in the World. My sincere condolences to his family.

Ron Buninga, son of Bill, mv Galaxy's captain

(Photo: ©Ron Buninga)

I met Tom during the USS Density 2002 reunion in Missouri. Tom was vaguely known to me by that time.

I was told interesting stories about Tom's adventurous life about flying all kinds of aircraft and his business about setting up a radio pirate ship in the early sixties. That radio ship, the former USS minesweeper Density, grew to be one of the most popular ships in Europe's history. The radio station called Radio London or Big L had some 12 million daily listeners in England alone.

My dad was the captain of the ship (renamed the Galaxy) during her broadcasting years. I have served as a watchman on the Galaxy when eventually the station was taken off the air.

To bring the circle round to Tom, I took the Density ship's bell to the 2002 reunion and presented it to its former US crew. That is where I met Tom.

The day he left, a few friends and me took him to the airport. It transpired he had his own airplane! He took us up for a little sightseeing before leaving. A no-nonsense, nice and easy-going man.

Rest in Peace, Tom.

Geoff Pearson, Radio London Sales

Thank you for passing on the sad news of Tom's death. I only met him a couple of times when he visited [our offices at] 17 Curzon Street so I cannot say I knew him, but if it had not been for him and the other founders we would not have had Radio London and all those great memories. His passing unfortunately makes me realise how old we are all getting.

Michel Philistin, Radio London

It's sad for all of us to find out that Mr Tom Danaher passed away. For me, I knew Tom from the start of Radio London. Please pass my best wishes to his family.

Ron O'Quinn, Radio England

Thanks, Mary, for keeping me in the loop. I am saddened by Tom's death. He truly was a kind and gentle man who possessed a wealth of talents. I had the pleasure to meet him twice, but never knew about his movie credits.

John Ross-Barnard, Britain Radio

Connie and I returned from our holiday (no email, no inet etc) to the sad news of Tom's departure via that great airplane beyond the sky.
We met him in Dallas with you and earlier at Don's home and we could have sat at his feet for hours just listening to his modest recall of WW11 and his shared sadness for the British involvement which he declared was impossible for the UK government to avoid. He firmly believed that the US government was remiss in failing to join the war effort in 1940. Quoting Churchill, he believed that 'Jaw Jaw' was always better than 'War War' and if the US government had used its influence in Germany, millions of lives would have been saved and altered the course of what might never have been a war at all.

Thank you for compiling a splendid memorial to his great life. Like others we owe him and Don enduring thanks for our careers in broadcasting.

Rick Randell, Radio England

Very nice tribute to Mr Danaher. Thanks for posting it, and sharing with us here in the US.

Tanya Bailey Baugus, Daughter of USS Density shipmate Verne Bailey

Such a nice tribute to a wonderful, talented man. Great job, Mary. Tom will be missed by so many.

Raquel, Ben Toney's daughter

I am so sorry to hear the sad news about Tom Danaher. It was a great honour to meet him in the Summer of 97. My dad, Ben Toney, has always spoken so highly of him and just from meeting Tom briefly I can see why. He was an inspirational and kind man who started something truly wonderful. May he rest in peace.

John Sales, dedicated listener

I'm very sorry to hear the sad news about Tom Danaher. We all have a great deal to thank him for. He played a big part in changing radio in the UK forever, by giving us such a Wonderful radio station.
It was a pleasure meeting him in Summer 1997 on Walton Pier, during the Radio London RSL broadcast.

'Fab' Alan Field, Fab Forty chart compiler

Everyone who listened to Radio London in the 60s, and still remembers the station with great affection today, owes a huge debt of gratitude to its co-founder Tom Danaher. Tom was one of the Texan backers who saw the potential of Radio London, and had the courage to put money into the venture, when it was all still just a dream. More than this, he played a leading role in buying, repairing and fitting out the mv Galaxy, and personally undertook and oversaw much of the work involved.
I had the privilege of meeting Tom Danaher at the 40th anniversary celebration of the day Radio London took to the air. He was a charming man, full of stories of an interesting and varied life, and even at the age of 82 it was clear there were more chapters to come. I was naturally sad to hear of his passing, but if ever there was a case for celebrating a man's life as well as mourning his loss, this is certainly it. I send my condolences to his family and friends, but at the same time I want to say a big thank you to Tom for one of his lifetime's many achievements in helping to bring us Radio London.

Pauline Miller, dedicated listener and Knees Club Official

I was so sorry to hear about Tom's passing on. It makes me feel quite sad given what we owe him for Radio London. It's strange when you think about it that our lives would have been very different without him doing what he did and probably none of us would ever have met up 30 odd years later and made enduring friendships. I know the focus is mostly on (high profile) Ronan O'Rahilly and what he did with Caroline and I doubt many folk would know of Tom (more low profile) but our lives would have been much poorer without him. For my part, I'll be forever grateful to Tom. I probably wouldn't have passed my college exams without the help of Radio London in the background, so it was good to meet up with him at the 2005 reunion and to be able to thank him personally. It really does feel like the end of an era now.

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