John Stott's Right Hand: The untold story of Frances
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FOR the latter half of the 20th century, John Stott was one of
the best-known and most influential clergymen in the Church of
England. From his rectory at All Souls', Langham Place, he was the
leading advocate of a biblical Evangelicalism concerned with
expository preaching, world mission, and social justice. The
prolific author of books published in more than 50 languages, he
was recognised universally as an Evangelical Christian statesman of
the first order.
It is doubtful, however, whether he would have achieved what he
did without the assistance and support of an organisational paragon
as gifted in her own field as he was in his. For 55 years, Frances
Whitehead acted as Stott's secretary. But she was in fact much more
than a secretary. She did, indeed, type all his books, but she also
acted as his general administrative aide, both in London and in his
Welsh retreat in the depths of Pembrokeshire. It had been, as she
reflected in her old age, "a life, not a job".
She came to All Souls' from a post with the BBC, having been
converted to a deep faith in Christ at a watchnight service at the
end of 1952. Stott, in need of a secretary and recognising her
quality, offered her the job - which she accepted. They carried out
their joint activities on a shoestring budget, and were proud of
each other's efficiency and thrift. Whitehead's duties included the
usual range of humdrum chores inseparable from a normal office
routine - and she would even run downstairs to answer the doorbell.
But her extraordinary ability was acknowledged in 2001, when
Archbishop Carey awarded her a Lambeth MA degree. Stott christened
her "Miss Doom", for her habit of sounding a note of realism during
the course of their often animated discussions.
Julia Cameron worked on the boards of three of Stott's
Evangelical initiatives, and so writes as an in-formed insider who
has researched her subject deeply. She shows that Frances
Whitehead, in spite of her dedication to Stott's interests, had
plenty of interests of her own. Nor does she gloss over the
potential emotional risk of two people, both unmarried, working,
however platonically, side by side. She remarks percipiently:
"Clearly John's and Frances's ability to work together so closely
was a mark of grace. . . They both had a high level of inner
discipline. . . They did not allow for romantic hopes to take root;
embarrassment and awkwardness would have undermined a remarkable
That friendship lasted to the end of Stott's life. It was
Whitehead who gave the opening address at the memorial service for
him held in St Paul's Cathedral on 13 January 2012. And she was one
of the executors of his will. She had served him for the greater
part of her own working life - and was happy to continue that
service even after his death.
Dr Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times.