Obituary: MARGARET HEATHER LAIRD

by
23 May 2014

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A correspondent writes:
MARGARET LAIRD, who died on 11 May, aged 81, was, for ten years from 1989, a highly regarded and effective Third Church Estates Commissioner. Her responsibilities included chairing the committee that dealt with the sensitive issue of schemes for pastoral reorganisation. She also had oversight of bishops' houses and redundant churches, as well as membership of various committees and working groups, not least those dealing with clergy discipline and the Pensions Board.

She brought to all these tasks sympathy and concern, and was scrupulous in ensuring that parishioners' views were heard and taken into consideration when pastoral schemes were discussed. She took that quasi-judicial work particularly seriously, and there were few, if any, who could feel aggrieved at the process of consideration by her and her committee, even if the decision was not as they would have wished.

Margaret Heather Laird (née Polmear) was born in Truro. She remained immensely proud of her Cornish heritage and background, maintaining a home there after the death of her parents. She was educated at Truro High School, and read Medieval History at Westfield College, London University. She found this sense of history useful when dealing with historic churches and pastoral schemes.

She spent a postgraduate year at King's College, London, where she met her future husband, John. They married in 1961. This was a notably happy relationship. He and their two sons survive her. She also came under the influence of Eric Abbott, who remained her spiritual director for 30 years until his death. In her last years, she conceived a collaborative project to gather some of his unpublished writings and sermons for an anthology with a short biography.

She taught at Grey Coat Hospital School, and at Newquay Grammar School, before her marriage. She then taught at St Albans High School, before John's appointment as Chaplain (later Vice-Principal, acting Principal) at Bishop's College, Cheshunt. During this happy period, their children were born, and she "concentrated on motherhood".

The "most traumatic period of our lives" occurred in 1969, when Cheshunt was culled along with other theological colleges. The Lairds moved to Keysoe, in north Bedfordshire, where they remained until John's retirement and appointment as Chaplain to the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House.

During this period, she was Head of Religious Education at Dame Alice Harpur School, Bedford, for 20 years, and was a member of the General Synod's House of Laity, before her appointment as Third Church Estates Commissioner. As Commissioner, she served on the Standing Committee of the Synod. She was appointed OBE in 1999.

She was a member of the councils of several societies, where her advice and comments were greatly valued for their calm and reasoned authority. The Anglican Association, the English Clergy Association, the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith, Lambeth Palace Library, Cleaver Ordination Candidates' Fund, Allchurches Trust Ltd, and Open Churches Trust all benefited from her contribution. She was a long-serving Governor of Pusey House, and was devoted to its liturgy and life. At a difficult time in the life of the House, her support for the Chapter was solid and encouraging. Successive Principals and Priest Librarians found her a source of wisdom and practical advice. Her concern for clergy and undergraduates was real and unostentatious, kind and interested. She was also a member of the Royal Institution of Cornwall and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Mrs Laird was committed to the Catholic faith as the Church of England had received it. She was devout in the practice of her faith, and regretted the path that the Church of England had chosen to take in recent years. From creational and incarnational principles, she did not think that the change in ministerial order was right; nor did she accept that the Anglican Church had the authority to make such a decision alone. But she remained steadfast in her beliefs and loyal to the Church.

She faced her terminal illness, and its treatment, with fortitude for two years. During periods of remission, she resumed her committee work, and wrote articles for New Directions. A generosity of spirit and lively hope despite difficulties were always apparent. She was one of those people whom it was always a pleasure to meet and be with. She was the most gracious of people.

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