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Geoffrey Wilson Cleaver

20 January 2017

Canon Dan O’Connor writes:

AFTER an unfailingly constructive life, never more modestly lived, Geoffrey Wilson Cleaver’s death on 2 December, aged 84, will be re­­ceived with regret throughout the Anglican Communion.

Born in Harpenden, Geoff was schooled at St John’s, Leatherhead, after which he read Classics as an exhibitioner at Pembroke College, Cambridge, before taking an educa­tion diploma at Bristol. Five years of teaching Classics in grammar schools across England ended when a climbing accident put him in hos­pital, and caused a rethink. In 1962, he moved to Nigeria, to teach Clas­sics at a church school in Onitsha.

There he met Nora Marsden, who was teaching ten miles away in Ogidi; they were married in 1968. They relocated, owing to the civil war in Nigeria, to the Gambia, where they taught until 1973.

His lifelong commitment to edu­cation included a return to Britain and teaching appointments at Hockerill College of Education, until its closure, and then from 1979 at USPG’s College of the As­­cension, Selly Oak.

Geoff’s ten years there were hugely influential. The college, founded to train British mission­aries for work overseas, was develop­­ing a new remit, providing training and educational oppor­tunities for mid-career lay and cleri­cal women and men from the churches of Africa, Asia, and else­where.

While Nora was a tutor and librarian, Geoff essentially master-minded this new bursaries pro­gramme. He planned and negotiated individual courses, often with place­ments in parishes which were as im­­portant for the parish as for the bursar. He was watchful of the welfare of what amounted to a size­able element of the future leadership of partner Churches in the Anglican Communion. The respect and affection of the bursars for Geoff in this crucial position was constantly evi­dent.

After two years as a USPG area secretary, Geoff, with Nora, retired in 1992. They were living at Halton, near Lancaster, and undertook valued voluntary work with both the Abbeyfield movement and the North Lancashire Counselling Ser­vice. The later work continued until his eyesight failed; and Nora’s caring was expanded.

Although shy and undemon­strat­ive, Geoff had a penetrating mind, most attractively evident in wonder­ful, theologically profound animal stories and sermons. Behind a some­­times troubled exterior, he had a sweet and deeply caring nature.

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