Philip Petchey writes:
THE Revd Robert Norwood, who died on 29 July, aged 79, was evacuated as a very young boy to Stow on the Wold, where he enjoyed going to church with his aunt. Back home in Norbury, south London, he attended services at St Olave’s, Mitcham, which was distinctly Anglo-Catholic. As a pupil at Tonbridge School, he came under the influence of the Chaplain, the Revd Francis Henry Gripper, who was of the same churchmanship.
Robert never deviated from the principles he adopted then. After National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), he went to Keble College, Oxford, to read English, but was ploughed after failing a paper in Anglo-Saxon. For the next few years, he taught in schools in London, often church schools in Anglo-Catholic parishes; he received training at Sidney Webb College.
In the late 1960s, he returned to Keble, to read theology, this time successfully; he was always grateful for the support of the Warden, Austin Farrer. After Oxford, he went to take charge of the first form at Chigwell School, and he remained teaching there until retirement. He was an outstanding schoolmaster in an old-fashioned way: devoted to the interests of his pupils, learned, and good fun.
For as long as he could remember, he had always felt a vocation to the priesthood. Despite this, he was rejected several times. Like the importunate widow, however, he never gave up, and, in 2003, he was ordained to a title at Holy Cross with St Jude and St Peter, St Pancras.
The decision of Bishop Chartres was to be amply justified. Robert blossomed as a priest. His kindness and generosity of spirit found an outlet in helping the disadvantaged. He loved the celebration of the eucharist at St Mary and Christ Church, Wanstead, where he lived; and he helped to ensure the maintenance of the liturgy in many of the surrounding parishes. For several years, he served as a locum in Tangiers, Morocco, enjoying Anglicanism in that exotic location, but not failing to minister to the English who were serving long sentences in prison.
He had a fund of stories, starting with his time in the RAMC, where, accorded greater responsibility than is normally the lot of a corporal, he met many senior generals; his accounts of a deaf Fr Royle presiding at St Matthew’s, Westminster, were memorable. The tales were delivered in a distinctive, gravelly, voice, deadpan and with many pauses for effect. He also was an early historian of the Malines Conversations, for which work he received a Lambeth diploma.
It is impossible to know how Robert’s life would have developed had he become a priest as a younger man. What one can say is that, sustained by his faith, his life yielded the fruits of the Spirit in the manifold circumstances in which he was called upon to serve God. His ashes are interred in the churchyard of St Edward’s, Stow on the Wold, where he had been baptised as a boy.