12 November 2008

A life devoted to Tanzania: the Rt Revd Richard Norgate in 1988

A life devoted to Tanzania: the Rt Revd Richard Norgate in 1988

A correspondent writes:

THE Rt Revd Richard Norgate, the former Bishop of Masasi, Tanzania, died on 7 October, aged almost 87, after several months of poor health. His passing marks the end of an era in the history of the diocese.

Cecil Richard Norgate, always known as Richard, was born the second son of a large clergy family on 10 November 1921. His father was the Revd Cecil Francis Norgate. His mother died in 1928, two years after the family moved to Great Casterton, near Stamford, where Cecil was Rector until his death in 1953. Two years after she died, the Revd Cecil Norgate married again.

Richard and his older brother, Edward, were sent initially to Bay House School at Oakham. One of the headmasters was an Anglo-Catholic priest, who turned the loft of one of the school buildings into a chapel, and held a daily mass, which Richard loved: he never had any thoughts of anything other than being ordained. The two boys continued on to St George’s Preparatory School at Lincoln, where Richard’s burgeoning vocation was encouraged. After a short time at a school in Broadstairs, they went on to Stamford School.

There he had good teachers, and was always encouraged in his yearning to enter the priesthood. He did well in sports, and both he and Edward made the school’s first XV.

Richard went on to the University of Durham, where he studied theology at St Chad’s College, but his studies were interrupted by the Second World War and his service in the Royal Navy. He served aboard HMS Waveney, and was involved in transporting troops for the D-Day landings. He was also involved in the Arctic convoys, and served on the land-based HMS Golden Hind, the headquarters of the British Pacific Fleet, near Sydney, Australia, for the latter part of the war.


After the war, he completed his degree at Durham, and was ordained deacon in 1949 and priest in 1950 at Newcastle. His first curacy was at St Peter’s, Wallsend on Tyne, where he remained until 1954.

He then became a missionary priest with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa. It meant being unmarried and unpaid, but the UMCA looked after him. Richard was sent directly to Tanganyika (later Tanzania), to the diocese of Masasi, in Mtwara Region, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

After serving in the parishes of Newala (1954-56) and Masasi (1956-58), he was appointed by Bishop Mark Way as parish priest of Mkomaindo. The hospital there was an important medical centre, and, under Bishop Trevor Huddleston, a nursing school and training for rural medical aides brought new op­portunities and responsibilities for the parish priest.

In 1977, he was appointed by Bishop Hilary Chisonga as Vicar-General. Then, in 1984, he was elected as Bishop. More than 25 years after independence, it was unusual, to say the least, for local people to elect an Mzungu bishop, but Richard had the qualities and had earned the respect to enable him to undertake the task most capably.

He retired in 1992, and, for the remainder of his life, lived at the Rondo, where he was cared for by his devoted servant James, and other members of James’s family. He became an inveterate letter-writer to his many friends all over the world, rejoicing in the replies that he received.

Perhaps because his life had been frugal (although he never complained about this), he loved to receive little “luxuries” from Europe and further afield. He was very partial to curry powder, presumably to liven up the sometimes monoto­nous and bland African diet. He was overjoyed with the gift of a wind-up radio, and exclaimed with real delight: “Wonderful! Now I can listen to the Proms the whole way through every night — until now I had to ration myself to five minutes each evening so that I didn’t waste diesel.”

When an American Ph.D. student brought him a large bottle of whisky he wrote: “I sat down after dinner and had just a little sip, and then I had another sip . . . and then I had another.”

He was admitted to the Benedictine Hospital at Ndanda last July with heart problems. After a few weeks, he returned to his home, close to St Cyprian’s Theological College at the Rondo, and remained there in the months before his death, attending chapel daily, and spending many hours praying, reading, meeting visitors, and writing letters.

The funeral in Mkomaindo Church on 10 October, led by the Bishop of Masasi, the Rt Revd Patrick Mwachiko, was attended by Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa, and many priests, religious, and lay people. He was laid to rest in a special tomb in the church — and the parish where he worked for so many years, and which played such an important part in his life. He dedicated his life to Masasi, and has realised his aim of burying his bones in Tanzania. Requiescat in pace.

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