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01 March 2013

The Archdeacon of Pontefract writes:
THE Ven. John Mark Meredith Dalby, Archdeacon of Rochdale from 1991 to 2000, died on 11 February, having recently celebrated his 75th birthday.

Reflecting, in a collection of essays celebrating the 150th anniversary of the diocese of Manchester, on the office of the Archdeacon of Rochdale, Mark Dalby had this to say: "As for the archdeacons of Rochdale, they were sufficiently prominent in their day to have been the subject of obituaries when they died, but only obituaries of the charitable kind. . .

"As it is, we have an overall picture of scholarly and intelligent men, outwardly forceful, yet sometimes at heart rather shy, who had hobbies as diverse as cricket and clocks, who were skilful chairmen and, above all, faithful priests and sensitive preachers. It is a worthy, if not exciting, picture."

If any priest could be described as his own man, it was Mark Dalby. Although in many ways a self-contained, scholarly, and high-and-dry celibate, with an insatiable appetite for sherry and duty-free cigarettes, he was the most clubbable of men, who enjoyed nothing more than good gossip; but never maliciously. A Queen's Scout in his youth, he later greatly enjoyed his Freemasonry, in which he achieved Grand rank.

A native of Southport, where he went to the Grammar School, his cousin was the Reformed theologian John Hick, and his mother Sheila's childhood playmate was Thomas Holland, later to be the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford.

A graduate of Exeter College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of the college chaplain, Eric Kemp, Dalby went on to train for the ministry at Ripon Hall, Oxford, where he was one of "Uncle" Gordon Fallows's bright batch of students, which included such future luminaries as Stephen Sykes and John Rogerson.

A parish priest to the core, whether he was in refined Oxfordshire, inner-city Birmingham or Tottenham, suburban Worsley, or at the Advisory Council for the Church's Ministry in Church House, Westminster, the parish and the people of the parish were the focus of his care and concern. The emphasis of his work as an archdeacon was to serve the parishes and encourage them. He was greatly instrumental in Manchester diocese in the setting up of the Local Ordained Ministry scheme.

He brought to his work an incisive intelligence, both as a writer, chiefly on rites of passage, and as a member of the Liturgical Commission.

Dalby had an extensive hinterland. An inveterate traveller, lately limited to more local coach tours, he was quietly pleased with his extensive stamp collection, and had a consuming interest in family and local history.

A valued spiritual director for many of the clergy, he was never afraid of telling it as it was. One of his favourite hymns was "There's a wideness in God's mercy"; and that was the keynote of his priesthood, whether telling people that they must learn to cope with the element of dissatisfaction in their lives, or telling others never to forget why the Lord had given them two fingers.

Retiring in 2000 to be Chaplain of the Beauchamp Community in Malvern, he greatly valued the friendship of the community there, and the peace of the chapel. A critical but loyal servant of the Church, at the end, he loved nothing more than going to church, saying his prayers, and coming away again.

He is survived by his brother Andrew, and by many friends, who will be for ever grateful for his care and counsel.

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