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Obituary: The Revd Peter Murphy

23 July 2021

A correspondent writes:

A MUCH LOVED former vicar of Paddington, Hythe, and the New Forest, the Revd Peter Murphy has died, aged 81. Known for his inclusive and down-to-earth approach, he remained positive, with a cheeky smile, to the last.

Born in Guernsey in 1940, Peter was evacuated at four weeks old, just before the German occupation. He was carried by his mother in a kipper box by ferry to Weymouth, before the family started a new life in Brighton. The family were closely involved in church life at St Martin’s, Brighton, where the serving priest, Fr Gill, asked them to run a house for retired clergy.

Dyslexia meant that Peter did not excel at school, but, thanks to the support of Fr Gill, he was able to gain enough qualifications to read theology at King’s College, London. He then served his title at St John’s, Paddington, with the Revd Cuthbert Scott.

During the next five years, Peter built notable relationships and interests. Richard Branson started his Virgin empire in the church crypt, and friends included the Beatles’ producer George Martin. Peter also became a staff photographer for the parish magazine, run by the Time/Life editor Walter Graebner.

At this time, Peter struck up a close friendship with Nicholas Brown, a retired naval officer attached to the staff of General Eisenhower, in London. Some of Peter’s fondest memories were sailing with Nick all over the world.

After Paddington, Peter became Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, Basingstoke, and became a guiding force in the parish magazine. “I’d doodle my way through meetings,” he remembered. “Here, my little friend who always sat on my shoulder began to develop.” These cartoons gave him great pleasure and appeared in numerous publications.

Peter’s services were known for being creative and inclusive. On Sundays closest to the feast of St John the Baptist, he would shut the church and take the congregation to a stretch of water near by. This developed into outdoor baptisms; and Peter also performed a burial at sea. In the 1980s, he held the first online wedding.

In his autobiography, Peter remembers frying an egg on Easter Day, suspending a choir boy from church rafters on Ascension Day, transforming the pulpit into a boat, and giving out kaleidoscopes to keep choir boys amused.

Peter’s love of the sea drew him to the parish of Hythe and Waterside in 1982. He would sail as much as possible, and started skippering for the Ocean Youth Club. He also became chaplain of the Calshot Lifeboat.

Peter loved the New Forest, and, after ten years in Hythe, became Vicar of Lyndhurst. He took part in annual Drifts (round-ups of free-roaming ponies and donkeys) and Point-to-Point races.

In Paddington, Peter had been involved in the blessing of parish horses, and he brought the tradition with him to Lyndhurst. Ponies and donkeys would often be featured in other ceremonies.

Peter officially retired on his 65th birthday, although he continued to take services at Breamore and Fordingbridge. He never left church duties, taking his last service for St John’s, Hythe, last Christmas.

Peter died in Southampton General Hospital around midnight on the 16/17 June. He is survived by his wife, four children, and five grandchildren. His funeral was to be held in Fordingbridge and the service streamed online. His family requested no flowers and asked instead for donations to the RNLI at Calshot.

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