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Obituary: Canon George David Surtees Galilee

06 March 2015

Kenneth Shenton writes:
CANON David Galilee, who died on 16 January, aged 77, was very much the life and soul of Blackburn Cathedral during his nine years as Canon Chancellor. He always joked that his main claim to fame lay in his short spell teaching at a Hertfordshire preparatory school, where one of his pupils was Harry Philby, son of the spy Kim Philby.

A native of Norton-on-Tees in County Durham, George David Surtees Galilee spent his formative years as boarder at Durham School. From there, his prodigious talents took him to Oriel College, Oxford, where he read Theology. In the interim, however, he spent the summer months teaching at Beaumont House Preparatory School in Hertfordshire. In 1961, he moved to Westcott House, Cambridge, to train for the ministry.

For five years, between 1962 and 1967, he served as an Assistant Curate at St Mary's, Knighton, in Leicestershire, before becoming Vicar of St Luke's, Stocking Farm. In 1969, he returned to Cambridge, as a tutor at Westcott House and with a similar position at Homerton College. Two years later, seeking further parochial experience, he became Vicar of St Andrew's, Sutton, on the Isle of Ely.

From 1980, his outlook found a particularly happy and expressive outlet during almost 15 years at St Mildred's, Addiscombe. This large parish in south London, with an outstanding musical tradition, then served as the parish church for the Royal School of Church Music, during its years based at Addington Palace near by. Each year, without fail, the parish would decamp to Westminster Cathedral, where its talented choir would help at an evening mass.

Disaster struck St Mildred's on 6 November 1985, however, when fire destroyed, of its two instruments, the organ housed in the east end gallery. Providentially, the rest of the building suffered only superficial smoke damage. A passionate music-lover himself, nurtured on the celebrated Bach recordings of the great German organist Helmut Walcha, Galilee enthusiastically led the refurbishment plans. His task, as he then saw it, was to deliver a new instrument that would add a vital new dimension to the work of the church.

By Easter 1988, careful planning and enthusiastic fund-raising had happily brough the church restoration to its former glory. In a newly constructed east-end gallery was a brand-new ten-stop mechanical-action two-manual organ, built by N. P. Mander, and opened in some style by Peter Hurford. Courtesy of much imaginative thinking, St Mildred's, in common with many of the finest churches in Paris, had come up with an unusual and ingenious solution. Retaining different functions, its two instruments, one at the east end and one at the west, now shared a single console.

In 1995, Galilee moved north, to become Canon Chancellor of Blackburn Cathedral. In many ways a contrast to his previous parish, here the cathedral is situated right at the heart of the former industrial mill town, its population then, as now, an ethnically diverse mix. While there, his background meant that he also took a strong interest in education throughout the diocese, which has one of the largest concentrations of church schools in the country.

Bringing method, reliability, and humour to the life and administration of the cathedral, Galilee ensured that its worship was always of the highest order. For him, services always had to be informed by theological insight, sensitivity of language, and appropriateness to the occasion, be it a great civic occasion or a simple act of devotion for a smaller gathering of pilgrims. His scholarly outlook also took particular delight in leading the Bishop's annual reading week for clergy, held in January of each year, amid the splendour of St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden.

Elected Canon Emeritus on stepping down from the cathedral in 2004, he remained throughout his retirement a familiar and popular figure in the community. A fine preacher, he delivered the annual Assheton Sermon in January 2012 in the village of Downham, near by. It marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

He married Isobel Duncan in 1964; she died in 2006. A son and two daughters survive him.

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