OBITUARY: THE VEN. COLIN RICHARD BATEMAN BIRD

by
16 June 2010

Canon Keith Pound writes:

THE Ven. Dick Bird, who died on 2 June, aged 77, was Archdeacon of Lambeth for 11 years, until his retirement in 2000 brought to a close his 29 years of distinguished min­istry in the diocese of Southwark.

After Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Cuddesdon Theological College, Dick went straight to South Africa, to serve a curacy in 1958 at St Mark’s Cathedral, George. He then served as Rector of North Suburbs, Pretoria, and afterwards in the parish of Tzaneen with Duiwelksloof and Phalaborwa.

It was in South Africa that he met and married his wife, Valerie, who remained a supportive partner in his ministry thereafter, and who, like him, became a member of the Third Order of the Franciscans.

On return to this country in 1970, Dick became Curate-in-Charge of St Andrew’s, Limpsfield Chart, in the parish of Limpsfield; but it was not long before his obvious gifts caused him to be appointed as Vicar of St Catherine’s, Hatcham, where he built up the kind of vibrant worshipping and serving multiracial community that was always dear to his heart.

He became Rural Dean of Deptford in 1980, and an Hon. Canon of Southwark in 1982. It was during this time that he was involved with the fallout from the notorious Deptford fire, in which 13 young black people died as a result of the deliberate starting of a fire in a house where they were having a party. With David Diamond at St Paul’s, Deptford, Wilfred Wood, later Bishop of Croydon, and many others in the community, Dick pressurised the police to mount an intense inquiry. Sadly, the culprits have never been brought to book.

Dick’s combination of ad­minis­trative acumen and sensitive pastoral care made him an ideal choice as an archdeacon, and it was therefore no surprise when he was appointed to that office in Lambeth in 1988. Among the many duties for which he will be remembered is his care of hospital chaplains.

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A priest who served in his archdeaconry said of him: “He was a lovely archdeacon. Unlike some people in diocesan posts, he never seemed to be rushing off to his next meeting.”

Dick had a lifelong interest in the work of the Society of St Francis, and was for many years a member of the Third Order. In retirement — like many of us — he took on new work; but few assume responsibilities as serious as were Dick’s as the European Minister Provincial in 2002, a post he held for six years. This involved a great deal of travelling, and made full use of many of his gifts as a spiritual director and caring organiser and support for Third Order members throughout the continent of Europe. The Franciscan fusion of the life of the Spirit and concern for God’s creation permeated all that Dick did in a long and varied ministry.

We were friends for more than 50 years. Last year, Dick invited me to preach at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, in the cathedral at Bury St Edmunds, with which he established a happy connection during his retirement, and where his funeral took place on 11 June. Little did we think that, less than three days before the next anniversary of that event, he would no longer be with us, in earthly terms.

I enjoyed his company, and that of his family. I knew him as a warm, intelligent, and funny man. He was a great mimic. Above all, he was a faithful and imaginative priest, and will be widely remembered as such.

Dick is survived by his widow, their three children, and three grandchildren.

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