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Obituary: Canon Desmond Price

13 November 2020

Canon Desmond Price with his wife, Margaret

Canon Desmond Price with his wife, Margaret

The Revd Edward Lewis writes:

THE last person to have flown in the Second World War, as a mid-turret gunner, and then to have rejoined the RAF as a chaplain died a week after celebrating 68 years of priestly ordination.

Canon Desmond Price, who died on 6 October, aged 96, was born in Abercrave, Swansea Valley. He was called up to serve in the RAF, and, after demobilisation, was an undergraduate at St David’s College, Lampeter. There, he met his wife-to-be, Margaret, the sister of a fellow former RAF colleague.

Des had a phenomenal voice and was auditioned at the Royal Opera House. Unfortunately, his stature did not equate with the voice, and, in any case, the call to priestly ministry was stronger. He was ordained in Llandaff Cathedral and served two curacies in the Rhondda Valley. He wished to return to the RAF as a chaplain but the Archbishop refused. So, he moved to a third curacy in Watford. The Bishop of St Albans, Gresham Jones, was more inclined to Forces chaplaincy, and so his dream was realised.

As a new chaplain in the RAF, he was assistant to the Revd Lorimar Rees, later Vicar of St Mary Abbots, Kensington. He taught his colleague the importance of the daily mass and how to drink champagne, properly. Des married his university sweetheart, Margaret. Sadly, their firstborn, Debbie, died. After that devastating loss, Margaret never sang in church.

During his tour as an RAF chaplain, he served in Aden, in Yemen, and the wider Middle East. Always a keen sportsman, he played golf with the celebrated pilot Douglas Bader. After 12 years as a chaplain, it was time to return to parish life.

Des became Rector of Dinas with Llanllawer, in Pembrokeshire, and built up the congregation with a warm and ready welcome for the many visitors. In 1972, he moved to the ancient parish of Llandeilo Fawr. Like so many clergy, he was soon faced with the problem of a church hall. He had the vision to sell the hall and to change an aisle in the church into an area for gathering after services both on Sunday and during the week. Many clergy and congregations visited Llandeilo to see how this vision could work in their parish. He also made a strong link with Lichfield Cathedral, regarding the Lichfield Gospels, which had their origin in the parish.

Desmond was not that interested in meetings or church politics. His mantra was that people were more important than things, learnt from his time in the RAF. He was just as happy having a pint with farmers at the local mart as he was at a formal dinner party. The vicarage and, subsequently, his own home were places of welcome and entertainment.

He was a Prayer Book Catholic. While always a gentleman, he could not accept the ordination of women as priests or bishops.

He did not court preferment. When a letter arrived at the vicarage inviting him to be a canon of St Davids Cathedral, he was convinced that the bishop’s secretary had made a mistake and it must be for another Price. It was only when the archdeacon, who had been on holiday, rang to congratulate him a week later, that he believed he was to be a Canon. He later became Canon Chancellor.

During this time, Des and Margaret brought a great warmth and hospitality to the Canonry when he was in residence.

The words of Hilaire Belloc are particularly apt: “Where the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always music, laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!

After retirement, Des was happy to help in parishes, until his health failed. He was devastated when Margaret died 18 months ago. His son, David, also predeceased him. He is survived by his son, Mark, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. May Desmond Price rest in peace. Jesu, mercy. Mary, pray.

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