The Very Revd Robert Martin Colquhoun Jeffery

by
06 January 2017

Rebuilder at Worcester Cathedral: Bob Jeffery, pictured with his wife, Ruth, was appointed Dean of Worcester in February 1987

Rebuilder at Worcester Cathedral: Bob Jeffery, pictured with his wife, Ruth, was appointed Dean of Worcester in February 1987

THE Very Revd Bob Jeffery, who died on 21 December, aged 81, will be remembered as ecumenist, synodsman, and rebuilder of the financial fortunes of Worcester Cathedral during his years there as Dean (1987-96).

Born on 30 April 1935, Robert Martin Colquhoun Jeffery was educated in London at St Paul’s School and King’s College, where he also trained for the ministry. He went straight into a curacy at Grange­­town in Durham diocese and then another at Barnes in South­­wark. It was at Barnes that his potential as a thoughtful and ver­satile preacher began to be noticed.

There followed, from 1964, his seven years among professional ecumenists in an era when their hopes ran high. First, he was assistant secretary of the old Church Assembly’s Missionary and Ecu­menical Council; then he moved to the British Council of Churches to be secretary of its Department of Mission and Unity. For the 1968 Lambeth Conference he helped prepare a brief on ecumenical ex­­per­iments. Much of the work that he published, then and later, was in that field.

His return to the parish ministry was as Vicar of Headington in Oxford. A conscientious priest, he travelled the parish by bicycle and always wore a cassock. He re­­conciled these irreconcilables by hoisting the cassock to his waist and folding the skirt into the basket behind him.

A further seven years on found him in Lichfield diocese. Though he had charge of the parish of Tong, his main work was as diocesan mis­sioner and then (1980-87) Arch­deacon of Salop. Voracious of work, he was elected in 1983 to General Synod. He relished its ways from the first. In the circular gallery occupied in part by the press, his mutton-chop whiskers became a familiar sight, and he was always good for a whispered forecast of events or appointments.

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During his Worcester period he joined the standing and business committees and became, until 1996, a Synod power. His great achieve­ment at Worcester itself was to raise £7 million for the cathedral’s restora­tion and endowment. Not all his personal relations, either in the close or the city, were happy. Yet, when he left, the diocesan synod gave him a memorable standing ovation.

The end of his time at Worcester was clouded by the loss in 1995 of his beloved wife, Ruth. They had married in 1968. After her death, he was at pains to maintain a home to which their daughter and three sons could return. He proved to be a grandfather of many gifts, not the least of which was his interest in cooking.

At the end of his working life, he went back to Oxford. His last post, a congenial one, was as Canon and Sub-Dean of Christ Church (a cath­ed­ral where the dean is also the head of a big college). He retired in 2002.

The Very Revd Dr John Drury adds: Bob arrived at Christ Church from Worcester shattered by the sudden and utterly unexpected death of his wife. But the Chapter and the College took to him and he to them instantly. He was recover­ing from a terrible blow — in trauma, but soon operating at full throttle and serving huge meals in his lodgings.

“There’s a lot to him,” I was assured by Dennis Nineham. And there certainly was. Sometimes it seemed as if all the goings-on in the Church of England, particularly its higher reaches, passed through his rotund form and beaming features.

To a Dean who was pretty much a stranger to it, this was a great advantage. The numerous college livings could be left to him to look after with complete confidence (although it was a worry to think of him in his old car on country roads at night).

But more of an advantage still was his stalwart friendship. His charity and compassion were both profound, warmed by a glowing Christian devotion derived from Thomas à Kempis.

He loved his family intensely. He often talked of Tong. If heaven is as socially cheerful as they say, Bob will have settled in perfectly by now.

John Whale contributed the first part of this obituary.

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