LADY COGGAN

by
02 November 2006

JEAN COGGAN, widow of Donald, 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, died on 24 January 2005 in hospital in Winchester. She was 96, and had led a full life of formal occasions and engagements, many interests and the membership of many charities, and a much appreciated private existence with her family.

Jean Braithwaite Strain was born in Wimbledon in May 1908, daughter of William Loudon Strain, a London surgeon, and his wife Dorothy, daughter of an Anglican vicar. Jean was their seventh child; there were to be ten. Her father was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, for whom Jean kept a certain admiration for their moral stand. Although she was happy to become an Anglican on her marriage, she retained some element of her puritan background.

After Wimbledon High School, she had some leanings towards medicine, possibly to becoming a medical missionary. Her father was opposed to this idea, with the result that Jean entered Bedford College, London, for a two-year Diploma in Social Studies; she achieved distinction in all subjects. An attachment to the central organisation of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Christian Unions (IVF) saw her travelling from one university to another to give talks to groups of young women, at which she excelled. It was through this work that she met the young Donald Coggan, who was at the time editor of the IVF newspaper. They were married in Islington Parish Church, where Donald was a curate, on 17 October 1935. There began for Jean a life of devotion and support for her husband and his calling which was to endure to the end.

Jean accompanied Donald to Canada in 1937 where he became teacher of New Testament at Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto. During seven happy years in Canada, Jean give birth to two daughters, Ann in 1938 and Ruth in 1940. The relationship between the parents and their daughters was to remain particularly close always. There was warmth and laughter in the family circle. Luxury meant nothing to them; nor did austerity. Perhaps "abstemious" better describes their way of life.

A difficult period followed the return to England. The lack of accommodation in a college damaged by war showed how much a permanent home meant to Jean. The move to Bradford, where Donald be-came Bishop in 1965, supplied a house chosen by themselves, and plenty of new openings and opportunities. Jean made the need for help and companionship by the wives of the clergy her priority.

At York, as wife of the Archbishop, she had more to do in this field, with larger numbers; and a host of charities also claimed her patronage. Her interest in health matters brought forth a call that was answered: Jean became a member of the Rowntree Trust, which helped children with spina bifida. Mental health concerned her, whether of adults or children. To the development of hospices and the Samaritans, she gave support; she joined various hospital boards. Missionary and Bible Societies were always of concern - all this without neglect of her home at Bishopthorpe, her husband and family.

There was a painful parting with the North of England when Donald was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1974. Jean became chatelaine of two homes, one at Lambeth and one in Canterbury. It was not long before she became well-known and well-liked by the clergy and their wives, for her kindness and care. Her chairmanship of that part of the Lambeth Conference on 1978, for the wives of the bishops, was especially memorable; she had no "side".

Jean's own interests were many; one, all her life, was gardening. From their Winchester flat, in her seventies, she grew vegetables in an allotment. During the York days, she began to paint under the tutelege of William Horsnell, first in oils and then in watercolours; her pictures were mainly of her beloved Yorkshire fells. In retirement, she produced three books, all of which revealed her deep faith. First came a series of meditations, Through the Day with Jesus; next a number of Bible studies, with prayers, entitled Welcome Life; lastly, a personal spiritual anthology A Pilgrim's Way. Jean 's chief interest was in people, well or sick, to whom she extended warmth and concern. The death of her husband and elder daughter Ann were hard knocks.

She died as she had lived, with courage and resilience. Her last stay in hospital was for a mere two days. Wearing an oxygen mask, she demanded her knitting (for Oxfam) and proceeded to work it, despite pneumonia. On her last day, she asked Ruth on her early morning visit: "Have you had breakfast?"

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