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Tommy Tonner (1973-2013)

Ray D’Cruz

Tommy Tonner, one of our foundation adjudicators, passed away on 16 September 2013 after an illness. He was just 40 years old.

Tommy excelled as a debater and adjudicator. As a debater, he was a member of the Strathclyde University team that regularly featured in UK and international finals.  As a judge he twice adjudicated the World Championship Grand Final.

I recall sitting on a semi final adjudication panel with Tommy at the 1997 World Championships, held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. It was a close debate. When it came time for panel discussion Tommy spoke first. His clear thinking and economy of words made a complicated decision seem simple. His grasp of debate dynamics allowed him to crystallise the debate like few others could. He did exactly the same thing a few hours later in the Grand Final, his initial summation held sway for the duration of the 90-minute panel discussion.

Tommy was also instrumental in many World Championship reforms, from the recognition of Scotland as an independent nation at Worlds Council, to the standardisation of the format and the drafting of the rules.

It is for those reasons that years later I asked him to join the Election Debates panel. He was an enthusiastic and occasionally controversial member of the judging panel. He would ruminate on debates for days and then call to discuss them, teasing out the issues in great detail. Tommy felt that our rigorous analysis could help others see the debates more clearly, particularly the media.

In debating and out of debating Tommy was incisive, witty and thoughtful. He would listen intently and choose his words carefully. He would make a point forcefully, yet quietly. His style was utterly distinctive.

Tommy was a skilled consultant, a passionate Scottish Nationalist, a father, a husband and a friend to many. His friendships were enduring and spanned the globe. He will be sorely missed.

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Election Debates is dedicated to improving the quality of election debates and election debate commentary for the benefit of voter education and engagement. Our analysis and opinion is offered by some of the world’s foremost experts on competitive debate. We objectively apply the rules of debate to assess whether speakers balance positive arguments with negative attacks, communicate clearly, develop arguments and use evidence. Election Debates is a not for profit entity; contributors derive no income from our activities. We hold no corporate, government, NGO or political affiliations.
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