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16 May 2014

The Revd Paul J. Mansell writes:

CANON Alan Pyburn, who died on 2 April, aged 84, was born in Sunderland. His father was a primary-school teacher, and, although his post ensured a regular income, Alan's early years could not have been easy, given the economic climate then. Growing up in a seaside suburb of Sunderland, however, would have created many delights for a young boy.

Alan attended Bede Grammar School, and later said that he owed a great deal to the man who taught him art and gave him a hobby for life. Several members of Alan's family and many of his parishioners are still enjoying his understated talents. Alan continued: "I am also indebted to the man who taught me history, and enabled me to get an open scholarship to Cambridge - and established a lifelong habit of reading."

In 1948, Alan accepted a place at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read history and theology. It was during this time that his call into the Church became particularly evident, and Alan decided to seek ordination. This calling, however, was not immediately fulfilled, as Alan was first required to complete his national service. He spent the period between 1951 and 1953 with the Royal Artillery, serving in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

After several interviews, Alan was accepted for training, and studied at Westcott House in Cambridge. In 1955, Alan was made deacon, and, in 1957, ordained priest, in Durham Cathedral. He served his title in Barnard Castle, a market town in Teesdale, Co. Durham, learning the ropes from the Vicar, Alan Webster. Alan then moved to become Chaplain back at Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, under Hugh Montefiore, who was then Dean.

In 1960, Alan was appointed Vicar of Dallington, living in an old vicarage next to a large housing estate. After several years, a young member of his congregation, Joyce McCabe, caught his eye. Their relationship blossomed, and, in 1969, Alan married her, the love of his life. Three years afterwards, in 1972, he accepted the post of Vicar of St Giles's, Oxford, and so Joyce and Alan moved from the town they had both enjoyed, in Alan's case for 12 years.

Although modest and humble, Alan, intellectually gifted, delighted in university life. He took great pleasure in forging connections between the colleges and the local community.

Alan and Joyce provided accommodation for overseas students during the summer months, enjoying the large vicarage and its proximity to the open spaces of the University Parks. Joyce was an excellent cook, and Alan was a bon viveur; so evenings with their resident students must have been a treat for all concerned, as they discussed the latest issues around the dining table.

Alan and Joyce remained at St Giles's until 1979, when Alan was offered the last and by far the longest tenure of his professional life. They moved to Henley-on-Thames. Alan was installed as Rector of St Mary's, where he remained for 16 years. He described the post as a full, demanding, and worthwhile job. The excitement of the Thames and the annual Royal Regatta were only part of the attractions. The beautiful Chiltern landscape of wooded hills and green fields ensured an idyllic backdrop for the Pyburns. Henley provided a wonderful opportunity for Alan to indulge his passions for art and music, through the many festivals and exhibitions.

Alan was Rural Dean from 1984 to 1994, which ensured that he was fruitfully occupied. His presence at diocesan synod, held on a Saturday, was sometimes fitful. "Saturday was the day designated by the Lord for cutting the grass," would be his mischievous comment. His commitment to the Church was never doubted, as he was made an Hon. Canon of Christ Church Cathedral in 1990. As would be expected in such a famous town, many well-known faces came through the doors of St Mary's.

Alan's natural humility, self-effacement, and lack of preoccupation with his position meant that he was not a man to be easily intimidated. Known for his calm disposition, he took everything in his stride. To mark an episcopal visit in 1988, Joyce exercising her celebrated culinary talents to create a wonderful meal. To accompany it, she made a redcurrant sauce that Alan named "Cardinal Sauce".

In 1995, Alan and Joyce retired to Pippin Cottage in Finstock. Alan continued to support various parishes during interregnums, and provided a gracious contribution to church life, particularly closer to home, where he was much loved. He continued to read and paint, mainly landscapes, which he sold, and gave the money away. They both enjoyed walking their dog, which kept them active.

Judy, Alan's niece, provided a fitting tribute to end. The physician, polar explorer, natural historian, painter, and ornithologist Edward Wilson was at Gonville and Caius some 50 years before Alan. Before dying in the snows of the Antarctic, Wilson wrote: "I shall simply fall asleep, don't be unhappy, all is for the best. We are playing a good part in a great scheme arranged by God himself, and all is well." Alan's final words, after prayers by his bedside, were "Don't worry. I'm fine."

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