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Obituary: The Ven. Frederick George

06 November 2020

The Rt Revd Dr Richard Fenwick writes:

CROCKFORD’S CLERICAL DIREC­TORIES are wonderful. Sometimes, as you read between the lines, aston­ishing lives blossom in front of you. So it is with the Ven. Fred George, who died on 16 October, aged 81. It was an extraordinary, but tough, life with many dangers, es­­pecially trek­king across the Australian Out­back, driving through the monsoon in Brunei to isolated communities, and plough­ing up-river by launch in The Gambia to distant missions. Fred never eased off, and, wherever there was work to do, Fred was there.

There is much more in his mem­oirs. He tells of childhood years in a prefab in Catford, south Lon­don. He writes of his love of camp­ing in magical villages such as Friday Street in the Surrey Hills. We read of his National Service with the Devonshire Regiment; his struggles through dyslexia to get to Teacher Training College; then his joy at entering St Luke’s, Exeter.

Even­­­tually he was accepted as a teacher in Australia with USPG, where he joined the Bush Brotherhood of St Barnabas; Fred was one of the last of that Order. His many mem­ories include rebuilding (liter­ally) a school burned out in a bush fire, and avoiding a couple of large crocodiles in the outback when his rackety old “ute” slid off a flooded road into the ditch.

While in Australia, he trained on the hoof, being made deacon in 1972. Then, 11 years later, in The Gambia he took leave for a top-up year at college in Chichester, and was ordained priest. He returned to The Gambia as College Principal at Farafenni. In truth, Fred had already crammed about four lifetimes into those first 44 years.

At heart, Fred was always a pastor, and, from 1989 to 1997, he came home as a parish priest in Suffolk. He loved Ringsfield, Re­­d­isham, Barsham, Shipmeadow, and the villages around. In fact, one of the pictures in his study was of that amazing east end to the church at Barsham. Later, he was very happy as Rector of Wainford, and he fondly recalled the churches and the people. But, as with so many who have spent time abroad, the call re­­turned, and, in 1997, he moved to the South Atlantic to the diocese of St Helena, as Vicar of Jamestown.

He was soon ap­­pointed arch­deacon, and his love of people, his passion for historic buildings, and his ability to give minute attention to finances, property plans, and records made him ideal. In truth, he had found the place he loved most, and even though he “retired” in 2003 — coming back to the UK to look after Winchelsea for a long interregnum — he returned to St Helena and built his last home in St Matthew’s parish.

Fred was a wonderful colleague, and “retirement” was purely no­­tional; for when there was real difficulty in paying a vicar for St Mat­thew’s, he simply stepped into the job. His driving was hair-raising, but whether he was rush­ing around both islands on church work, or doing his bit as chairman of the National Trust, or sorting out chaotic dio­cesan records, Fred was there — meticulous and utterly dependable.

Again, his love of travel (gained over many furlough holidays with his sister, Anne) and his deep love of Italian Renaissance art (which he had occasionally taught) meant that he was a real gift when it came to Lent and Advent courses or diocesan quiet days. The subjects ranged from studies on the Gospels to “Images of Christ in art and iconography”.

You could not overestimate Fred’s contribution. Even in declining health he was busy planning the fine new ministry training course, and lec­­turing on it. His insight and generosity were endless. Even when health and memory really made
life difficult, the determination re­­­mained. He would be driven to the mass in Longwood where the parish deacon would do the synaxis and Fred would do the consecration.

He was very much a part of life on St Helena and Ascension, and, whether visiting, saying mass, or drinking tea and “supervising” bingo in the hall at Longwood, he was with those he loved and served devotedly.

May he rest in peace.

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