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Obituary: The Rt Revd Robert Hardy

23 April 2021


The Rt Revd Dr Alistair Redfern writes:

RECALLING an incident just before his enthronement as Bishop of Lincoln, Bob wrote: “I slipped into the cathedral in my ancient duffle coat, only to be followed around by a virger, who clearly regarded me as a suspicious character! Naturally I did not reveal my identity, but somehow the story got into the press, and the comparison was made between myself and Richard Harries, just appointed to Oxford. We were described as ‘the Rough with the Smooth’.”

Bob’s genius was that he could do both rough and smooth as the occasion demanded. He could be tough and direct; he could be polite and charming.

On the surface, there was a smooth unfolding of vocation: Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield, where he sang in the cathedral choir with David Hope; Clare College, Cambridge; Cuddesdon; ordination in 1962; a parish in Manchester; Chaplain and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge; Vicar of Borehamwood; Director of St Albans Ministerial Training Scheme; Bishop of Maidstone with Robert Runcie (he was the youngest bishop in the Church of England at that time); Bishop of Lincoln; and, in retirement, an assistant bishop in Carlisle diocese. In June 2001, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Church of England and to prisoners.

Yet, beneath the surface, there were many challenges — most notoriously the very public issues with Lincoln Cathedral, which caused him great anguish, and which he handled fairly but graciously, at considerable cost to himself. Bob was someone who cared deeply about his work and his responsibilities; he gave himself unstintingly to others. His workload was always huge, and he was often at his desk at ten in the evening. He was always willing to go the extra mile to help others.

He gained a first-class degree and was a gifted theologian. When he appointed me Bishop of Grantham, he gave me a tremendously succinct and profound definition of episcopacy in the Anglican tradition. In one of his rougher contributions, he told me: “The Bishop is the only bugger who bats for the Church,” i.e. everyone uses church according to their own views and priorities: the Bishop is called to embrace all of this and more — God’s Church is always bigger than her members can imagine. This is Anglicanism in its most appealing aspiration.

He exercised outstanding leadership in this wider area, a significant position in the House of Lords, especially as Bishop for Prisons, in key posts in ministry and public-affairs work for the Church of England, as President of the Lincolnshire Show, and supporter of many important causes across the diocese. He was Visitor to Eton College, Brasenose and Lincoln Colleges in Oxford, and King’s College, Cambridge. In each place, he made an important contribution with his wisdom and his teaching.

Bob was a person who said his prayers. He reflected deeply upon his calling and that of the Church, particularly around the theme that we must decrease to enable others to increase.

His wife, Isobel, was a medical doctor, and he would sometimes muse on the increasing tendency of people to go to their GP rather than their parish priest for pastoral support.

Bob was very proud of his family, Isobel, Ben, Alexander, and Rebecca. He treated colleagues as part of the extended family, and knew that the Church of England was called to be that kind of gracious and including web of relationships. He entertained widely and generously, but a point would come at which his chaplain announced carriages. He was always conscious of the next challenge and task.

His legacy will be widespread and profound, through his teaching, his example and his enabling leadership which was so effective in developing the skills and gifts of others.

Once he stopped to eat in a Little Chef, and the waitress asked about the colour of his shirt. When she discovered that he was a bishop, she asked him to autograph the menu. He wrote “+Robert Lincoln”. “Ah,” she said, “you’ve added a kiss!” Bob’s vocation was to add a kiss — affection, affirmation, and encouragement — to countless lives. A very Anglican way of doing ministry: the Way of Love.

The Rt Revd Bob Hardy died on 9 April, aged 84.

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