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Obituary: Joan Stober

22 April 2022

The Revd Sonia Barron writes:

IN FEBRUARY, the church community quietly suffered the loss of one of its most passionate campaigners, at the age of 93. Joan was a courageous voice, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, highlighting the marginalisation and exclusion of ethnic-minority people from the nation’s institutions. She was keen for the Church to use its influence to effect racial justice. For many years, she worked closely with the Liverpool Bishops David Sheppard and James Jones, and on a national level with Black Anglican Concerns, the precursor to CMEAC, the Committee for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns.

Having a mother from Hull and a father from Ghana, Joan applied, as a teenager, to be a nurse. When it became apparent that she was of mixed heritage, she was quickly rejected, but, encouraged by her father, she applied again. Something about Joan made them give her a try, and, in 1948, she became a qualified fever nurse, and, as far as we know, the first Black NHS nurse. She soon demonstrated her talents, and other young nurses were often reprimanded with the phrase “Little Morton would have had that done by now.”

She married Eric, a doctor from Sierra Leone, and, in the early 1960s, they moved the family to New York. Within months, Eric died in a road accident, but Joan stayed on, while she saved up to come home. The civil-rights movement was just beginning, and Joan had links with some of the great movers, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

A typical Joan story is that when she and some friends went to the park, the African Americans automatically went and sat at the back of the field. Joan wasn’t impressed at being so far from the bandstand, but was told that they were expected to sit out of sight. She duly picked up the children and sat on the front row.

On her return to Liverpool, Joan completed her training and became a midwifery sister, later opening up her own nursing agency. This gave her time for voluntary work, and she became concerned about the numbers of Black children being expelled from Liverpool schools. She was appointed chair of governors at one of the worst-offending schools, stopping many an injustice, as children were often excluded for little or no reason, in the absence of alternative provision. She also fostered a young teenage girl.

She worked with the city council and the Community Relations Council. She set about trying to buy a disused church to set up a community centre for young people; and invited members of the Black community to discuss the next steps. This eventually became the LBO, the Liverpool Black Organisation.

On the recommendation of the diocese, after the Liverpool riots and the death of Stephen Lawrence, Joan also volunteered as a community consultant for the Merseyside Police. This became a particularly important post after the death of Anthony Walker.

In retirement, Joan still had much to contribute. She had a prodigious memory, and “Joan from Southport” became a regular contributor to Radio Merseyside; when she phoned in to their chat show, she would be put straight through to air to share her reminiscences.

She was a lifelong churchgoer, and her faith taught her that, as Christians, we have responsibility for one another. She had a clear vision of how the Church ought to be an agent for change, and worked hard to inspire others to make it a reality.

Joan is survived by two daughters and their families: Elaine Pritchard is a retired careers officer and counsellor; and the Revd Jacqueline Stober is an Anglican priest.

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