THE Revd Robert Thompson, who died on 26 September 2004, aged 69, was a
parish priest whose influence extended far beyond the boundaries of his
He was born in the seaport of South Shields, Co. Durham, into a seafaring
family, and spent a year with the Missions to Seamen before National Service in
the RAF. He went on to train for the ministry at King’s College, London, and St
Boniface’s College, Warminster. He was made deacon in 1962, and priest in 1963,
serving his title at St Mary’s, Cockerton, in Darlington, until 1965.
During his second curacy, at St Margaret’s, Durham, he was Priest-in-Charge
of St John’s, Neville’s Cross, and married Janet, the daughter of Canon Norman
Goodacre, in St Wilfrid’s, Harrogate.
For eight years from 1970, he was Vicar of St John’s, Wallsend, a
large Tyneside parish, in which shipbuilding, heavy engineering, and
mining were still the main industries. The rest of his parochial ministry, 22
years, was spent as Vicar of Norham on Tweed and Duddo, parishes on the
northern extremity of the Church of England.
A faithful and diligent priest, he quietly and effectively preached the
Word, celebrated the sacraments, and taught, visited, strengthened and
encouraged his people. The spiritual care of the parishioners was his priority
throughout his life.
In his years at Norham, he played an influential part in the life of the
community, particularly as clerk to the parish council, and in his total
involvement in the life of the village school, where he taught, led assemblies,
and made a strong contribution as a governor. In every area of his ministry, he
was highly respected and well loved.
By nature a thoughtful, studious, and quiet man, who listened carefully
before he pronounced, he would nevertheless state his point of view firmly, and
was fiercely defensive of the traditional ministry of the parish priest, which
he believed to be the essence of the mission of the Church.
While his churchmanship was Prayer Book Catholic, he was sensitive to the
witness of the Church in a rapidly changing society, and by no means
unsympathetic to the far-reaching changes in liturgy, ministry, and mission
throughout the years of his ministry.
But he held the traditional teachings and values of the Church at the heart
of his ministry. If, in the course of discussion, a colleague might describe
him as conservative, he would point out with justification that the preaching
and teaching of those traditional values had effectively underpinned his
management of change in the life of his parishes, and had encouraged people to
move forward in faith.
In his unassuming manner, he could puncture pomposity, especially in chapter
meetings and synods, with a quiet, well-turned phrase and acute sense of
humour. He regarded ambition for high office, when it was manifested, with a
wry and tolerant amusement.
A gifted musician, he was an enthusiastic member of a string quartet, which
gave recitals on both sides of the English-Scottish border; so that he could
describe himself as an international artist of no repute. He encouraged
concerts of local and national orchestras and artists in Norham Parish Church,
as a means of bringing the listener into the presence and beauty of God. Where
better than in the House of God?
Gardening, reading and good conversation in the local hostelry completed
Robert’s main interests, but complementing his ministry was his love of, and
dependence on, his family: his wife Janet, his three daughters, and his
grandchildren, at home and in the United States.
In their retirement in Killinghall, North Yorkshire, Robert and his wife
Janet found their spiritual home in St Wilfred’s, Harrogate, where they had
married, and where Robert continued to exercise an active and valued ministry.
His funeral mass was concelebrated there before a large congregation, and
many fellow priests. The attendance at his memorial service later in Norham
Church reflected the influence of his ministry in many people’s lives.
Throughout the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle, he is remembered with love.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.