The Revd Dr John Pridmore writes:
CANON Geoffrey Brown, whose father was in the Indian civil
service, was born, the youngest of four siblings, in the hill
station of Simla.
From Monmouth School, he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where
he read History and English. Geoffrey joined the Cambridge
Footlights, in whose sparkling company he developed a talent for
entertaining which later served him well at parochial
After Cambridge came National Service in the gunners. He was
trained at Cuddesdon, and served his title at St Andrew's,
Plaistow. A second curacy followed at St Peter's, Birmingham. He
stayed in Birmingham, to serve for six years as Rector of St
There he met his wife, Jane, an actor with the Birmingham Rep.
Thenceforward - on the church-hall platform and in what in many
ways was a shared ministry - they were side-by-side. They became a
family with the birth of their twin daughters, Alison and
In 1973, Geoffrey became Rector of St Mary and St James,
Grimsby, now Grimsby Minster. There he and Jane ("singing to a
small guitar") are affectionately remembered. Today, people also
recall how forward-looking Geoffrey was. Home-groups tackling
issues of poverty, homelessness, and addiction were not commonplace
in those days.
After Grimsby came a more celebrated stage - and on it a raft of
problems. When Geoffrey was appointed Vicar of St
Martin-in-the-Fields in 1985, he took on the "greatest cure in
England". He also inherited an institution facing bankruptcy.
Geoffrey's great achievement during his decade as Vicar was to
rescue the church from the receivers.
For years, St Martin's had depended on legacies. Vulture-like,
the church had been feeding on the dead. Geoffrey saw that the
church must pay its way. Family silver was sold. Stalls retailing
boxer-shorts emblazoned with the Union flag appeared in the
courtyard. Concerts by candlelight hooked the tourists and raked in
A robustly priced restaurant opened in the crypt. Many in the
congregation were bewildered; some were outraged. And there were
awful problems with "the purple and the grey", with a bishop who
never answered letters, and a diocesan advisory committee
ill-disposed to the innovative. But Geoffrey stubbornly insisted on
the importance of "the world of work", and argued that the church -
even if it gets its skirts dirty - must be part of it. Someone has
to make the cloak Martin shares with the beggar.
At one level, all this was plain common sense. At a deeper
level, it was rigorous theology, resolutely applied in defiance of
the prevailing orthodoxy that, in siding with the poor, demonised
the rich. Geoffrey did go on - and sometimes on and on - about
"affirming the wealth creators", but his case was unanswerable, and
in the end he won us round.
Today's gloriously refurbished and soundly financed St
Martin-in-the-Fields is a tribute to all those who came to share
Geoffrey's vision and to build on it. But it was Geoffrey who first
saw that, if a church is to serve the living, it must make a
Saving St Martin's took its toll on Geoffrey. He was naturally a
shy, gentle, hesitant man, never relishing the battles he had to
fight. But, bruising as those days were, his pastoral heart never
hardened, as countless who were blessed by his kindness and wisdom
will testify. Among those were his curates. Across the years,
Geoffrey took on scores of them - many of us in our own minds
knowing it all already. His patience with us was unfailing - well,
Nor did Geoffrey's wider vision falter. Those were the years of
struggle for a just South Africa. With South Africa House next
door, St Martin's could not stand aloof from that struggle.
Geoffrey was committed to the church's projects to forge links with
communities in South Africa, including St Mary's Cathedral,
Johannesburg, and to projects seeking to enhance educational
opportunities for those deprived of decent schooling by the
Geoffrey retired in 1995. For some years, he was frequently
called upon to "help out" - and he did so gladly. But the time came
when, as he put it, "enough was enough". One who visited Geoffrey
towards the end spoke of his "straightforwardness".
"Straightforward" - the epithet is exactly right. In his time,
Geoffrey had been a good actor. But he was never a showman.
Geoffrey Brown was no Dick Sheppard - though, nearly a century
after Sheppard's time, Geoffrey's accomplishment in ensuring that
the doors of St Martin-in-the-Fields did not close can surely be
seen as a historic achievement equal to his more illustrious
predecessor's decision to open them to all and sundry.
Dear Geoffrey, "Many shall stand at the last day and call you