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Obituary: JOHN HEPWORTH HOLROYD

by
12 December 2014

Charles Gordon Clark writes:

JOHN HOLROYD, who died of cancer on 29 November, aged 79, was a remarkable example of the layman who, while holding down important public positions, found time to serve the Church as well - indeed, the wider Church; for this son of a Methodist minister never really broke with his Nonconformist roots, while becoming a Reader at St Albans and Gloucester Cathedrals, and a trusted figure throughout the Church of England during his time as Secretary for Appointments to the Prime Minister, and Ecclesiastical Secretary to the Lord Chancellor, from 1993 to 1999.

His father was a Methodist minister; so John's childhood was peripatetic, and largely in southern England, but he was always conscious that both his parents came from Morley in the West Riding, where their families had been in the woollen industries at all levels for generations. Childhood visits to his grandparents, aunts, and uncles were formative experiences of the need to live for public service as well as private enjoyment.

He was educated at Kingswood School (of which he was a governor for 20 years), and, after National Service as a subaltern with the Wiltshire Regiment - part of it on active service in Cyprus - at Worcester College, Oxford, as an open history scholar.

As he reminisced recently, such privileged education in the late 1950s led most of those who enjoyed it not to lucrative jobs but to ones in public service; he joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, and so was involved in many of the negotiations concerning Britain's joining the Common Market. Having been chairman of Civil Service selection boards in the late 1970s, he worked in the Cabinet Office from 1985; his memoirs of that time, embargoed until the requisite period has elapsed, should prove valuable records of the Thatcher and Major years, and especially their European policies.

His Civil Service career was crowned by his appointments work. After retiring, he did much useful work as adviser to the Association of Lord-Lieutenants, and became himself a Deputy Lieutenant, first for Hertfordshire, and then for Gloucestershire.

Both while living in St Albans, and after moving to Gloucester in 2001, he and his wife did a great deal for the lives of the cathedrals; he was a member successively of the two cathedrals' trusts, and a governor of the King's School, Gloucester (chairman of governors 2009-12). He also found time to be chairman of Wells Cathedral Council for seven years.

But he was not only an able administrator and trusted adviser: he was a fine musician, a singer and organist, and Oxford had opened his eyes to art and architecture. He and Judith, whom he married in 1963, made many visits to Italy, to classical sites around the Mediterranean, and elsewhere.

His happy marriage produced two children, and four grandchildren, who delighted his later years. He was a kind man, a man who chuckled over life in an engaging way, and, as a retired bishop said with great emphasis, a good man. He will be much missed.

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