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Gazette >

CANON DEREK JOHN JONES

A BLUNT Yorkshireman, Derek Jones, who died suddenly on 9 December, aged 81, was born in Shafton and educated at Barnsley Grammar — leaving at 15 to work at Grimethorpe Colliery. Yet energy and sheer raw ability took him on an unlikely pilgrimage.
 
It was from the celebrated Fr Tom Webster of Felkirk that he learned his “no-nonsense” Catholicism, and at 17 he departed for Kelham, living at the famous Cottage. On parish placement he met the Church Army, and Derek’s dislike of the publicly aired problems of Kelham determined his move to the Church Army College in Marylebone. He loved everything from studying to the seaside missions, and was commissioned in 1966.
 
His first main post was to Leicester as Diocesan Evangelist, and he was soon on the main committees, including the Board of Education under Canon Lawrence Reading. So began a life-long interest in education, and church politics.
 
In 1972, the Church in Wales asked for two Church Army officers to spearhead lay training. Derek moved to Penarth, and his human insight made an immediate impression. Together with Captain Brian Stares, he set up highly successful lay-training conferences. Meanwhile, he fell in love with Wales.
 
One winter’s morning he and his colleague went down to the Gower to speak to a deanery chapter. In the warmth of the room, all the clergy dropped off to sleep, leaving Derek addressing nobody: not even the snoring of one woke the others. Then the clock struck 12, the coffee came in, the Rural Dean awoke (followed by the others), an elderly Canon proposed a fulsome vote of thanks — and promised their total co-operation. Derek didn’t stop laughing till the car reached Port Talbot.
 
Proudly keeping his commission, Derek went to Salisbury Theological College, and at Petertide 1983 was ordained in St Woolos Cathedral. A title at Fleur de Lis was followed by eight years as Vicar of the one Welsh parish in the diocese, Rhymney — only possible because he had already studied Welsh. The place blossomed.
 
He was appointed to the large group benefice of Ebbw Vale in 1993. Six years saw enormous achievements, including plans for the restoration scheme of Christ Church (“the Cathedral of the Hills”), and TV broadcasts. All raised the morale of a hard-pressed community, and when news came of the steelworks closure, he engineered church involvement in discussions. Again, from 1994 to 1999, he was Rural Dean. His canonry, given in 1996, was well earned.
 
In 1999, Derek moved to the rural town of Caldicot, as a healer after the tragic death of his predecessor. Other work soon followed: Rector of the new Caldicot Group, Rural Dean, and, as always, total involvement in community and diocese. Just before he died, he won a complex battle with the County Council over access facilities for a new Church School.
 
Yet Derek was not just a “do-er”. He pondered deeply over what made the Church tick. When the vote on women priests was taken, many were surprised that he could not vote for their ordination, despite working so well with them in ministry. But courtesy was paramount — and he attended ordinations to pray for all ordained.
 
Again, there was a retiring side some never saw. Derek had no immediate family, and loved the company of friends, but he needed times of reflection. Creation captivated him. Last summer, he was staying in the Southern States right by the ocean. One early morning, friends found him gazing at a great cathedral of cloud over a glittering Atlantic. “That”, he said, “is the fingerprint of God.”
 
He died very suddenly by the war memorial in Caldicot. At his Requiem, a farming neighbour commented sadly: “You don’t get many Fr Dereks to the cartload.”

 

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