02 November 2006

Canon Ronald Coppin writes:

THE Revd Dr Douglas Jones died in hospital in Edinburgh on 25 November, a fortnight after his 86th birthday.

When I arrived at Durham Cathedral in November 1974, he and two other Canons were the only survivors of a "sea-change" marked by the arrival of three new Canons and a new Dean. It may have seemed more like a tidal wave than a sea-change for Douglas, who, after a Bristol curacy and five years as Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall and Chaplain to Wadham College, had taught Old Testament studies at Durham University since 1951, and had been Canon Professor since 1964.

Professorial Canons in Durham have two allegiances — to the University and to the Cathedral. At the Cathedral, Douglas was Sub-Dean and Canon Treasurer. Although there are professional lay staff, the Treasurer still carries overall responsibilities, which Douglas accepted in a typically conscientious way, though he gracefully accepted one of Dean Heaton’s managerial innovations — a Treasurer’s Committee to help him with his duties.

Hazel and his five children were central to his life, and to the very private person he was. They lived in the largest, grandest, and most inconvenient of the Canons’ houses. Genteel poverty was characteristic of the Chapter at that time — to compensate, perhaps, for the apparent grandeur of the housing. It meant that efficient central heating and an easy-to-run kitchen were not thought of the highest importance.

He listed his recreation as carpentry, but in his late 50s he took up golf, and took advantage of the walled garden attached to his house to practise in complete privacy — except for the occasional ball that escaped, to the surprise of passers-by. His retirement home near Edinburgh was strategically chosen with an eye to a nearby golf course.

Hazel predeceased him by less than a year.


The Revd Dr Anthony Gelston adds: Douglas was a popular and inspiring teacher. He was always keen to explore new ideas, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He was particularly skilled as a tutor of individual students, where he was able to deploy his pastoral skills.

One young man, confronted with the problems of biblical criticism, temporarily lost his faith, and with it his interest in the subject and his motivation to study. Douglas nursed him through a difficult term by asking him to report to his weekly tutorial not with the usual essay, but having read a detective story and prepared to discuss its plot. In this way, he managed to keep the student thinking and developing his powers of reasoning on what appeared to be safe ground, until he was ready to return to his studies.

Douglas’s main scholarly achievement was his commentary on Jeremiah, which occupied him for many years and was completed only in his retirement. Dr Jack Lundbom, an American scholar who has recently completed a massive three-volume commentary on Jeremiah, told me that he regarded Douglas’s commentary as the best to recommend to students — an accolade indeed.

Douglas’s eminence as an Old Testament scholar was recognised by his election as President of the Society for Old Testament Study for 1976. He was also awarded a Lambeth DD. Characteristically, he made his wide scholarship available to the Church at large. In particular, he served as chairman of the Liturgical Commission during the period just after the publication of the Alternative Service Book, and masterminding the volume of services for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter which appeared in 1986.

He was very supportive of his younger colleagues at the outset of their teaching careers. He encouraged us to develop our own initiatives, to which he contributed new courses of lectures prepared specially for the purpose. His personal kindness and rich sense of humour ensured that we were a happy team.

Douglas also contributed to the central administration of the University, where he had wide contacts right across the academic spectrum. He was discouraged from seeking early retirement by the then Vice-Chancellor, who valued his counsel in the affairs of the University.

His administrative responsibilities prevented his writing as much as he would have wished in the later years of his teaching career, in particular his projected theology of the Old Testament, but his memory will live long among the many clergy and RE teachers who passed through his hands, and particularly those who had him as their personal tutor.

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