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19 December 2014

"His Evangelical credentials were impeccable": the late Sir Frederick Catherwood, Ulsterman and former Conservative MEP for Cambridgeshire

"His Evangelical credentials were impeccable": the late Sir Frederick Catherwood, Ulsterman and former Conservative MEP for Cambridgeshire

Canon David Winter writes:

SIR FRED CATHERWOOD, who died on 30 November, aged 89, was a 20th-century advocate of the kind of socially responsible and politically involved Evangelicalism which had been so influential in the previous century. In many ways, he was a 20th-century version of William Wilberforce; but the slavery he challenged was the bondage of outmoded industrial and business practice.

His Evangelical credentials were impeccable. Raised in an Ulster Protestant family, he embraced an Evangelical faith as a boy, and carried that with him through public school (at Shrewsbury) and Cambridge, where he was a leading figure in the Christian Union.

After qualifying as a chartered accountant, he went to London to embark on a meteoric rise to top management. He became CEO of the construction company Costain in his thirties, and later managing director of British Aluminium. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of the redoubtable Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel, where he was a member of the congregation. Their marriage, and their three children, were a constant inspiration in his relentlessly busy life.

Catherwood's skills as a negotiator, and his persuasive advocacy of a less confrontational style of industrial relations, earned him the respect of leading Labour party figures such as George Brown, Harold Wilson, and Jim Callaghan, and also of the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, whose enthusiasm for the European project he shared. He joined the Conservative party, but, according to his son Christopher, "he was never a Thatcherite."

Through the 1970s, he was head of the newly formed National Economic Development Council, with the challenging remit to bring together government, trade unions, and management. In many books and articles, he argued for a "new way" of management in business, built on responsibility, trust, and co-operation rather than confrontation. He was a regular contributor to Third Way in its early years, and several of his books were influential in establishing a coherent Christian theology of money, work, and ethics. Among them were The Christian in Industrial Society (1964), The Christian Citizen (1969), and At the Cutting Edge (1996). He was elected Conservative Member of the European Parliament for Cambridge and north Bedfordshire, but, after his retirement as an MEP in 1994, he had little to do with political life.

Although a gifted writer and persuasive advocate, Catherwood was not a charismatic figure. During the 1970s, he was a member of the Central Religious Advisory Committee, which had a watching brief for religious broadcasting both on the BBC and IBA. He was a respected contributor to its deliberations, even though he disliked television and seldom watched it.

He remained in the mainstream of Free Church Evangelicalism. For many years, he was an active member of Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge, and a dedicated supporter of Christian initiatives to combat injustice and meet what he described as "the pressing needs of the poor and deprived". Theologically a Puritan, he embraced - as Elaine Storkey wrote on the Fulcrum Anglican website - "the best of the Protestant work ethic".

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