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Obituary: Canon Trevor Williams

20 December 2019

Professor Paul Fiddes and Bob Morgan write:

KIND, gentle, warm, unassuming, courteous — those are words that recur in the many tributes to a much-loved Oxford theologian, Chaplain of Trinity College from 1970 to 2005.

Trevor Stanley Morlais Williams, who died on 5 November, aged 81, was born in 1938 in Kampala to CMS missionary parents. After the war, he was sent to boarding school in England, as was then common. Leaving Marlborough in 1957, he undertook National Service with the RAF before reading theology under Dennis Whiteley at Jesus College, Oxford (the Welsh connection), which he later repaid as college lecturer responsible for its theological students.

On graduating, he went back to Uganda for two years to take a master’s degree in African Studies at Makerere University. From there he went to Westcott House, Cambridge, where he met and married Sue, and read for the then Part III of the Theological Tripos. In 1967, he was ordained deacon, served at St Paul’s, Clifton, Bristol, and assisted the university chaplaincy under his vicar, Peter Coleman (later the Suffragan Bishop of Crediton), before succeeding Leslie Houlden (and Austin Farrer) at Trinity — big shoes to fill — as one of the last to combine the duties of chaplain, tutor, and university lecturer.

Like several of his colleagues, Trevor found the triple job hard to combine with the weight of publications now expected from academic postholders, but his book Form and Vitality in the World and God (OUP, 1985) was well received. It ranges through the Bible, Christian tradition, and science and religion, before some substantial engagement with Paul Tillich, which reveals a pastoral, as well as intellectual, concern to combat modernity’s tendency to make ultimate “what is less than ultimate”. Some of his shorter pieces, which develop a coherent Christian confession and work out its practical consequences, were collected in The Ultimacy of Jesus (Aureus Publishing, 2009).

For many years, he lectured on the atonement, and was responsible for the special subject paper on Tillich, besides a heavy tutorial load from his own and other colleges. He also accepted far more than his share of the administrative chores, chairing the Faculty Board, serving on the General Board, and taking his turn as Vice-President of the College. His participation as a founding member of the Bonn-Oxford colloquia was typical of his making time for serious conversations and combining these with a light touch.

His contribution to the church and ministry at home (St Margaret’s) and overseas was recognised by an honorary canonry at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1995; and his lifelong commitment to Africa was reflected in his unwavering support for (and chairing of) a Ugandan charity, African International Christian Ministry, which works to meet the material and spiritual, needs of Ugandan people. In fact, he took two groups of students out to Uganda to help to build a medical centre for this charity.

Trevor and Sue made their home, in walking distance of the college, a place of welcome for generations of students, vividly recalled in Michael Morris’s funeral tribute in Edinburgh; Trevor had recently moved into a retirement home in the city to be near his devoted daughters, Rebecca and Catherine. The end of his marriage cast a shadow over the last decade of his teaching, and in retirement he faced failing health.

A quiet acceptance of what cannot be changed and a determination to move on where possible reflected a natural decency, goodness, generosity, and good humour that saw the best in all his students and brought out the best of many he worked with. This will all, no doubt, be recalled at a memorial service in Trinity College, Oxford, in the spring. “Pastor and teacher” is as good a memorial that anyone could want.


The obituary of the Ven. Raymond Roberts (Gazette, 13 December) was written by the Revd Peter Hore. We apologise for omitting the byline.

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