Chloe Axford writes:
THE Bishop of Exeter’s Chaplain, Prebendary Graham Stones, was known to his family, friends, and colleagues as “the kindest and most good-humoured” of men, with a mischievous sense of humour, a quick wit, a fondness for chocolate, and a deep love of scripture.
He died on 2 December, after being diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer in the week of his 70th birthday, just two months earlier.
Graham was an only child, born in Lancashire in 1949, and raised a Roman Catholic. During his teenage years, his family moved to Sussex, and it was here, while at school, that he met his future wife, Marion. After studying for a BSc in Chemistry at Southampton University, he worked successfully in the pharmaceuticals industry. He and Marion went on to have two daughters.
Graham’s life changed in December 1976, when he was given a Bible and a set of Bible-reading notes as a Christmas gift, while suffering from a bout of clinical depression. The notes were based on Joshua 24, and the verse “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord” struck Graham deeply and went on to shape his ministry; it led to a daily habit of Bible-reading, which he maintained throughout his life.
Graham gave up his career, after feeling a strong call to join the community at Lee Abbey, the Christian retreat centre in north Devon. He and Marion lived at Lee Abbey from 1987 to 1994, during which time Graham trained for ordination on the South West Ministry Training Scheme, based in Exeter.
A fellow student, the current Archdeacon of Plymouth, the Ven. Nick Shutt, recalls: “Graham had an uncanny ability to find a quick-witted reply to most situations. He had a compassionate heart and looked out for me during some difficult times. He was a man of God, not in any false super-spiritual way, but in a grounded and realistic way.”
After his ordination, Graham served as a curate in Okehampton, from 1994 to 1997, where he is remembered as “the kindest, most good-humoured” curate in living memory.
He went on to become a Team Vicar in Sidmouth, from 1997 to 2004, where he helped to bring disparate church communities together.
Prebendary David James, who worked alongside Graham in Sidmouth, described him as a “marvellous colleague”, whose warm personality, sense of humour, and depth of spirituality stood out. “There is no doubt that his ministry healed old divisions and brought people together.”
After serving in Church Stretton, in Hereford diocese, Graham returned to Devon in 2007, to become Team Rector of Teignmouth, and was appointed a prebendary of Exeter Cathedral in 2013.
In his spare time, Graham was a keen train and plane spotter, who also loved cars. He fell in love with Devon’s hills, be they the dramatic cliffs around Lee Abbey, the red hills of Sidmouth, or the distant tors of Dartmoor, visible from Teignmouth. Before his death, he chose Psalm 121, “I lift my eyes up to the hills”, to be sung by Exeter Cathedral choir at his thanksgiving service.
Graham had a reputation for being impeccably dressed: a well-turned-out man who always had a freshly pressed handkerchief in his jacket pocket.
His work was always underpinned and supported by his loving and close family, his wife, Marion, two daughters, and four grandchildren.
In 2014, Graham officially retired, but in 2016 he was invited by the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, to become his chaplain. One of his colleagues said: “His pastoral wisdom and experience gave just the right tone to the diocese of Exeter.”
Bishop Robert said: “Graham was a man of extraordinary kindness and generosity of spirit, and it has been a privilege to call him a friend, as well as a colleague.
“Despite his knowing that his body was being attacked by an aggressive cancer, his irrepressible hope in God’s love and in Christ’s redemption never dimmed. Even in death, he ministered to others. ‘Enduring in faithfulness’ sums up Graham’s attitude to his illness.”
Graham remained in post as Bishop’s Chaplain, and was a valued and much loved member of the Bishop’s staff team until his death.
At the thanksgiving service in the cathedral on 8 January, one of his friends and colleagues summed up what many of those there will have felt: “Heaven is the merrier for his arrival.”