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Obituary: Professor Michael Clarke

21 January 2022

Jonathan Neil-Smith writes:

PROFESSOR Michael Clarke, who died on 22 December, aged 77, after a long illness, combined a distinguished career in local government and academia with notable lay service to the Church at local and national level.

Born in a Yorkshire vicarage in 1944, Michael was educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield, and Sussex University, before embarking on an academic career as lecturer in politics at Edinburgh University in 1969. He played an active part in the worshipping life of St John’s, Princes Street, as a Reader. Michael’s strong Christian faith was to remain a cantus firmus throughout his life.

After a management post in local government in Lothian Council, Michael moved with his family to Harpenden in 1981 (worshipping at St Nicholas’s), to be director of the Local Government Training Board and then chief executive of the Local Government Management Board for England and Wales.

In 1993, he moved back to academia at the University of Birmingham, initially as head of the School of Public Policy, becoming Pro Vice-Chancellor in 1998, and, finally, Vice-Principal from 2003 to 2008. There were several publications on local government and public management in the 1990s, and Michael continued his practical involvement as deputy chair of the Local Government Commission for England. In 2000, he was appointed CBE for his services to local government.

Michael and his family moved to Worcester, where he became increasingly involved in the life of the Church and local community. He served as one of Worcester Cathedral’s first two lay Chapter members from 2001 to 20133, and chaired the Cathedral Council from 2015 to 2018. Michael chaired the Festival Committee for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 2017, besides serving on the governing bodies of the University of Worcester and the King’s School. He was also a Deputy Lieutenant, in which capacity he oversaw the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee visit to the Cathedral.

Within the diocese, his wise counsel was often sought for particularly sensitive tasks, and his diplomatic skills were greatly valued. He is remembered with great affection in the diocese, not least for his generous hospitality and his warm sense of humour.

Michael served briefly as a member of the General Synod’s House of Laity from 1990 to 1993. He was to serve again from 1995 to 2018, during which time he made a notable contribution as a member of the Panel of Chairs appointed by the Presidents. He is remembered for his mastery of the Standing Orders and for his calm, but gentle, authority (leavened on occasion with a touch of humour).

During the Revision Stage for the draft women-bishops Measure in 2010, the Order Paper ran to 37 pages; yet Michael chaired this sometimes impassioned debate with consummate skill, articulating succinctly the effect that each amendment was intended to achieve, so that members could vote with understanding and confidence.

In 2008, Michael was appointed to the re-constituted Dioceses Commission, just as it was assuming a more proactive position, and, in 2011, he was appointed its chair, a post in which his wisdom and sound judgement was to prove invaluable, and which he filled with distinction until stepping down owing to ill health in 2018.

During his tenure, he played a pivotal part in the creation of the diocese of Leeds from the former dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield: the first time in which existing dioceses had been dissolved to create a new one. This was a considerable undertaking, which drew on Michael’s wide experience of the Church, society, and local government.

In recognition of his service to the Church, Michael was awarded the Canterbury Cross by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2018.

Michael was a cultured man with a great interest in music, serving as Chair of Birmingham Royal Ballet (travelling the length and breadth of the country to support its productions). He was devoted to his family, and leaves a widow, Angela, three children, Joanna, Lucy, and Tom, and eight grandchildren.

Contributions from the Dean of Worcester, the Bishop of Norwich, Dr Colin Podmore, and the family.

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