Obituary: THE RT REVD ERIC WALL

by
26 April 2011

THE Rt Revd Eric St Quintin Wall, Bishop of Huntingdon from 1972 to 1980, who died on 11 April, aged 95, never expected to be a suffragan bishop, a task famously somewhat of a mixed blessing to the man himself, to his diocesan, and to his diocese.

Nevertheless, bringing to that office his considerable personal, parochial, and pastoral gifts, in­cluding the ability to resolve tension with humour, he contributed greatly to harmonious relationships in the diocese and the Cathedral, where he delighted deliberately always to “report for duty” as junior resid­entiary canon, never as bishop, unless formally representing the diocesan or performing an epis-copal function. Never pretentious, he wore his episcopal dignity unob­trusively.

His brief from Bishop Edward Roberts had been: “Get to know the diocese, manage the interregnum, and ease in my successor.” He did just that, fortunate to be in place in 1973 at the 1300th anniversary of the foundation at Ely by St Etheldreda, and for the memorable occasions of the Queen’s visit, the diocesan commemoration, and the “Bishops’ Walk”, during which the two bishops visited every parish in the diocese. He soon made himself known, loved, and respected, as did his wife, Doreen, with her support of the Mothers’ Union.

The 1920s were his youthful years, enfolded by family, love, and affection, within the Anglo-Catholic tradition, all of which gave him a secure base for his later life. His formative years in the 1930s, at school, Brasenose College, Oxford, Wells Theological College, and a curacy at Boston, in Lincolnshire, during which he had to make sense of life and vocation, fell within the context of the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, and the abdication crisis.

After the outbreak of war, he served as a Chaplain in the RAF Volun­teer Reserve. He never spoke much or dwelt on his experiences on war service, which, as it did for many others, refined his faith and under­standing of human nature. His return to parochial ministry was dramatically interrupted on Easter Day 1945 by the discovery that he had tuberculosis. That, too, made him very much aware of the fragility of life, and gave him a sense of living on borrowed time. Optimistic by nature, and by the grace of trust in God, whose ultimate purposes were good, he had a capacity for enjoy­ment, which he readily shared with others.

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Ordained deacon in 1938 at Lin­coln Cathedral, he would be­come, above all, a pastor, in the tradition of the pastoral bishops Hugh of Lincoln and Edward King. Michael Ramsey was for a time a fellow assistant curate; 34 years later, as Archbishop of Canterbury, Ramsey would consecrate him bishop. Six years further on, Eric Wall would himself ordain the future Archbishop Rowan Williams to the diaconate.

He could be said to embody what is now fashionably described as “the Anglican patrimony”, recognisable but elusive of definition. He was not churchy, nor a front, party, or com­mit­tee man, and had the inestimable ability to get things done — no mean achievement at parish, deanery, and diocesan level. He readily related not just to the clergy, but to the laity and to those beyond the household of faith.

Though he retired in 1980, he continued to exercise a ministry as priest and bishop into his 90s, and enjoyed many visits to Australia and New Zealand.

It was in 1942, at Boston, that he married Doreen Lovely, who sur­vives him. They were a strength and stay for each other in faith and in life, in health and in that adversity that afflicted him with tuberculosis, latterly so disabled her, and came upon him in his own last illness. But even then, in accepting the care of others, each of them graced others, enabling them to flower with love and affection. In recalling him, someone who met him only once remarked “He was a good and joyful man.”

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