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Obituary: Canon Kenneth Harris

20 July 2018

A correspondent writes:

CANON Kenneth Harris, who died on 22 June, aged 89, had given a lifetime of service to Chester and its surrounding villages. This was recognised by the city’s awarding him The Order of the Gates in July 2003.

Kenneth was born, a twin, to Cyril Charles Harris and Josephine Harris (née Watton) on 18 July 1928. The boys, sadly, contracted pneumonia when they were about six months old, and the elder twin, Dennis, died. Kenneth had an elder brother, Cyril (born 1926), and was later joined by Brian, in 1933, and Margaret, in 1939.

The illness continued to trouble Kenneth well into his teenage years. His schooling at both Victoria Road and Love Street Schools was frequently interrupted by bouts of serious illness. His apprenticeship at the Chester company of Brookhurst Switchgear had to be abandoned, and his doctor declared that he must seek employment in less confined conditions. In 1944, however, he began a second apprenticeship at the Hydraulic Engineering Company (H. E. Co.), where his father was the chief draughtsman and where his grandfather, Charles Alfred Harris, had begun the family’s connection with the company, and the City of Chester, on taking up an appointment as Outside Erector at H. E. Co. in 1901.

Kenneth settled well into work at H. E. Co. and, apart from a brief spell at John Summers’ Steel Works, spent 40 years of his working life there, ending that career as the managing director of the company.

Kenneth’s connection with the Church began at a very early age at All Saints’ Hoole, Chester, where his father served for many years as a churchwarden and, later, a Reader. Two particular organisations claimed Kenneth’s devoted interest. The first was the children’s church, where week by week as many as 80 young people met to praise God with a simplified form of matins. When the leader left and no adult was willing to take on the responsibility, teenage Kenneth was put in charge; the group continued to flourish and was still meeting some 15 years later. The second was the 2nd Chester Boys’ Brigade; Kenneth was associated with this for some 34 years, the final 14as Captain. Many men in Hoole today remember the influence that this company had on their lives and the great fulfilment it brought them; they have very fond memories of the annual camp.

Leadership of the Boys’ Brigade brought involvement with the Chester Youth Council and a wider sphere of youth work. In 1972, Kenneth was appointed a Justice of the Peace; for many years he served on the Juvenile Panel, and was for a time its chairman.

From early adulthood, Kenneth received a call to the ordained ministry. His lack of formal education, mainly the result of enforced absence from school owing to illness, was regarded as a severe drawback; he received much discouragement. When the North West Ordination Course of Training for the self-supporting ministry was introduced, the Bishop of Chester, Gerald Ellison, recognised Kenneth’s deep spirituality, practical abilities, and leadership qualities and had no hesitation in recommending him for training.

Kenneth was ordained deacon at Michaelmas 1972 and priest the following year. As an NSM, he served curacies at the Holy Ascension, Upton, and at Eccleston and Pulford, where he was given special responsibility for Pulford. He derived great fulfilment from these appointments and his ministry was much appreciated.

In 1980, Bishop Victor Whitsey asked Kenneth to go to the parish of Hargrave as Priest-in-Charge, and to live in the very run-down vicarage. After discussion, he and his wife, Jean, agreed to go. They set about not only renovating the house, but also reviving the parish. Very soon, Kenneth had a sizeable congregation and an active parish with a lively social side. Bishop Whitsey appointed Kenneth as Vicar the following year, though, of course, he was still in the self-supporting ministry.

In 1984, Bishop Michael Baughen asked Kenneth whether he might be interested in the post of Executive Officer of the Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility, a full-time paid post. At that very time, the owners of H. E. Co. were in the process of selling the company. Although Kenneth’s position there was secure, he knew that changes were imminent; so, after discussions with Jean, he decided to accept the post, should it be offered. Kenneth held this position for some ten years, while remaining Vicar of Hargrave. This service to the diocese was recognised by Kenneth’s appointment to an honorary canonry of Chester Cathedral in 1991.

When Kenneth retired from full-time ministry in 1994, he continued to officiate with the Bishop’s permission, but it was not long before he was asked to take on further responsibility. From 1996 to 1998 he cared for the parish of Ashton Hayes and, from 1998 to 1999, for Alvanley, giving them the same dedication as he had shown in all his appointments. His commitment never faltered.

This outline of Kenneth’s working life reveals a man of great energy and capacity for hard work, but there is more. Kenneth was always a keen sportsman.

He was goalkeeper for the school team at Love Street and, for many years, kept wicket for the Boys’ Brigade cricket team. Later on, he took to refereeing football matches and his skill and fairness is still recognised by the ageing players whom he controlled in the local league. He did not stop at the local level, however, but went on to qualify as a football-league linesman; he had a highly successful career there, too, not only in this country, but also running matches in Europe. He might well have become a football-league referee, but he had begun too late: by the time he was considered, he had almost reached that profession’s retirement age.

Kenneth was a dedicated family man. He and Jean were a loving couple and their family testifies to their devotion. Jean worked actively wherever Kenneth served, and she took a full share in parish life.

Kenneth will be very much missed by his large family; his children, Dennis, Anne, and Jacqueline, with their spouses, and his many grandchildren. They will all miss the towering presence of this loving and inspiring patriarch.

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