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16 November 2012

Richard Hopgood writes:

PATRICK LOCKE, who has died, aged 78, was an outstanding servant of the Church Commissioners for more than 40 years, and their Secretary from 1992 to 1998, when he played an important part in engineering and executing the reforms that enabled the Commissioners to recover their reputation after a serious financial crisis in the early 1990s.

Educated at Bristol Cathedral School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he read English, Locke joined the Church Commissioners in 1957, and swiftly made his mark as an efficient and thoughtful administrator. He rose rapidly through the ranks to occupy a range of senior positions, including Stipends Secretary (during a critical period of the Central Stipends Authority), Estates Secretary, and Deputy Secretary.

In 1992, within months of his appointment as Secretary, the Financial Times published a devastating front-page critique of the Commissioners' commercial-property losses, compounded by excessive borrowing and developments. A high-powered group chaired by the banker Peter Baring produced a short but stark report on the full extent of the Commissioners' problems; it underlined the need to bring their spending commitments back into balance with their assets, as well as addressing significant weakness in their property investment.

No sooner had they reported than Frank Field's House of Commons Social Security Committee decided to conduct its own review, a blunt reminder that the Commissioners were accountable to Parliament as well as to the General Synod.

When Sir Michael Colman took over as First Commissioner in 1993, he ordered an actuarial review of the Commissioners' liabilities, and, with Locke, started to instil an understanding within all levels of the Church of the radical changes that would be needed to restore stability. Progressive cuts of more than £40 million a year in discretionary allocations were combined with the great changes to the funding of clergy pensions, and a power to spend capital, blessed by the General Synod and Parliament. It was a formidable achievement, in which the unshakeable determination and directness of Sir Michael combined with Locke's deep experience of the Church, and his skill in managing relationships with the Commissioners' many different stakeholders.

A less happy experience for Locke was the work of the Turnbull Commission, which was established to examine the structural weaknesses of the Church's central administrative arrangements. As an Anglican steeped in the Commissioners' joint accountability to Church and state, and holding a high view of the part that they played in the Church in supporting parishes in the "cure of souls", Locke was dismayed by plans to transfer many of the Commissioners' historic functions to a new body, the Archbishops' Council.

The Church Commissioners themselves were divided, and discussions were sharp and sometimes bitter, but much of what Locke valued in the Commissioners was preserved in the final concordat, while some decisions were deferred for later days, by which time the Archbishops' Council was suffering its own share of Synodical suspicion.

Locke retired in 1998, and was awarded a CBE. He continued as a trustee and later chaired the Pollen estate, a substantial estate of commercial property in the West End of London in which the Commissioners had a majority stake, and skilfully led the trustees in improving the quality of the holdings and the estate's value.

He became a governor of Pusey House, Oxford, in 1999, and served for more than ten years, during which he played a leading part in complex and sensitive negotiations with the University and St Cross College, and restored the House's financial stability. He also served for many years as a governor of the Sons of the Clergy, and was a member of the Athenaeum.

A tall, angular man, with a shock of white hair and strikingly large glasses, in meetings Locke possessed the power of silence, hinting at his views by a variety of facial expressions, before speaking with asperity and authority. In private, he could be a wicked mimic, and had a Homeric love of extended metaphors, in which policy debates moved from the quiet corridors of Millbank to the battlefields of history, to the occasional bemusement of his audience.

Locke did not advertise his faith, but valued the Church's traditions and history; he was well read in the Caroline divines, and regularly attended matins at Winchester Cathedral before commuting into London. A traditional High Churchman and sacramentalist, his interior life of faith informed his professional life and his willingness to stand up for what he believed, however mighty his opponents. In his last years, he developed a prayer life that grew into contemplation and visionary experience, and he took considerable comfort in Jeremy Taylor's Holy Dying as he faced his own death with casual courage.

He was a devoted family man, and is survived by Iris, whom he married in 1959, and their two children, Julian and Sarah.

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