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Prebendary Alan Tanner

30 October 2015

Richard Watt

Priest who practised what he preached: Prebendary Alan Tanner

Priest who practised what he preached: Prebendary Alan Tanner

Correspondents write:

PREBENDARY Alan Tanner, who died recently, aged 90, had been a priest for just on 60 years; but a great part of his life had also been devoted to the welfare of haemophiliacs who, like his son, Mark, had been treated with blood contaminated with hepatitis and HIV.

In later life, he described himself as a “ragamuffin from Poplar”. His father served in the Royal Artillery during the First World War and was decorated. His mother looked after the family and, through tenacity and drive during the days of the depression, encouraged her boys to follow in their father’s footsteps as scholarship boys at the Coopers’ Company’s School, where Alan was known as “Bob” Tanner.

The family was heavily involved with All Saints’, Poplar, and the Sisters of the Community of St John the Divine (of Call the Midwife fame) gave him a crucifix and stole when he was ordained to the priesthood.

At the age of eight, he contracted diphtheria and scarlet fever on holiday in Ramsgate. He returned home, close to death, and was in an isolation hospital for 22 weeks. The doctors said to his mother: “He must have a strong constitution,” and that was so throughout his life. He was evacuated to Frome, initially in an unhappy billet, but subsequently finding a second home with a loving family. He was head boy and captain of the school, and went on to read physics at Cambridge. He then had to decide whether to become a doctor of the body or the soul.

He was commissioned in the Royal Navy and met his future wife Tess, who was 17, and in the WRENS. They met again when he was at Oxford in 1945, reading theology, although it was another six years before he was free to be married. They were married in 1955 in Newchurch in Pendal, and had nearly 60 years together.

Alan was a keen sportsman. His nose was broken on numerous occasions through boxing at school. The family were strong swimmers. He fenced and played cricket and rugby. At Oxford, he took a year out to concentrate on rowing. Many people remembered him as a curate at St Mary’s, Hendon, cycling around the parish.

His family was extended. He was a loving and demonstrative father to four and grandfather to four. Another family was that of the Charterhouse (a brotherhood of retired men in Smithfield). He lived a good 45 minutes drive away, but if a Brother needed tender, loving care either spiritually or physically he would drop everything to be with them. Many a time, in mid-winter, he would set off in the middle of the night with a Thermos flask. He said that it was like a bereavement when he retired as their Preacher and Deputy Master after 27 years, in 2000.

He served all his time in the London diocese and 55 years in the City. His last church was St Botolph without Bishopsgate, which received severe structural damage from the St Mary Axe and Bishopsgate bombs in 1992 and 1993. The damage reminded him of that inflicted on his childhood church, St Stephen’s Poplar, during the Blitz.

He still carried on conducting his services, and continuing his work, while retrieving the remains of his office, which had been sucked out of the vestry windows and were spread over the churchyard. His spiritual home was St Paul’s, where he had been ordained, had become a Prebendary, and, after he retired, carried out pastoral duties.

His relationship with the Haemophilia Society and the World Federation of Hemophilia was to become his biggest heartache. His son Mark was diagnosed with haemophilia, even though there was no family history that could have prepared him for this. It was due to the care that he received from his parents and doctors and nurses that he led a normal and independent life until the blow struck that the very treatment that he required was contaminated by hepatitis and HIV.

Alan was Chairman of the World Federation and the Haemophilia Society at that time. He was friend and confident to Frank Shnabel, the founder of the World Federation, who was one of the first victims to die. Alan then found that he was conducting the funerals of nearly all his executive committee, while watching his firstborn son consumed by disease. He showed his inner strength by reaching out, and showing support, encouragement, and love to others in a similar situation.

If you came within Alan’s radar, you knew you could call on him at any time. Children he had taught in the parish schools, or met in the youth clubs and Scouts, made contact with him throughout their lives, in good times and bad. He will be remembered for his strong sense of humour, and his love: as a true man of God, who practised what he preached.

Tess gave him encouragement and support throughout his priestly ministry. His sister Joan gave him unwavering support after Tess died.

He was awarded an OBE for his services to haemophilia. Although he greatly appreciated it, he realised that it was a recognition of all the work the Haemophilia Society does.

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