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Obituary: Canon John de Sausmarez

12 April 2024

A correspondent writes:

CANON John de Sausmarez, a former Canon Treasurer of Canterbury Cathedral, has died, aged 97.

John was educated at Haileybury College, in Hertfordshire, and, aged 17, joined the army in 1943, going to India as a Gurkha officer. After the war, he worked in industry, before training for ministry at Wells Theological College.

He was ordained deacon and priest in Norwich Cathedral, and served his title in King’s Lynn, before taking up a post in Canterbury diocese. It was in this diocese that he served the rest of his ministry. His first living was St Martin’s, Maidstone, a large parish on an industrial estate, with two curates, where his strong sense of mission and zealous and tenacious approach increased the size of the congregation and extended the pastoral reach into the community.

In 1968, John became Vicar of St Peter’s, Broadstairs, where there was a predominantly elderly congregation, and the main Sunday service was 11 a.m. matins. He introduced a 9.30 a.m. parish communion, reinvigorated the choir, appointed the first female churchwarden as the Vicar’s Warden, and oversaw the building of a new church hall. His pastoral skills and exceptional ability to proclaim the gospel in a simple and meaningful way helped him to reach more of the community.

Members of the laity were inspired and then marshalled to help across all aspects of church life; the parish soon became the biggest and most thriving in the diocese. By the latter 1970s, the electoral roll was more than 1300, and there were around 200 children in the Sunday school. It is no surprise that years later, Richard Chartres, the former Bishop of London, said to John’s son: “I remember your father; he was the man who ran that extraordinary parish in Broadstairs.”

John became Rural Dean of Thanet in 1974, an honorary canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1978, and a residentiary canon in 1981, at which time Archbishop Runcie bestowed on him a Lambeth degree. By appointing John as Canon Treasurer, the Archbishop and Dean were hoping that he would get a grip of the cathedral finances and the buildings. This he did with a vengeance, moving the investment portfolios to better managers, ensuring proper budgeting and financial control, and delivering a proper cycle of maintenance to the buildings.

While he was in post, he also oversaw the renewal of the stone floor in the nave (a once-in-200-years job) and managed the renewal of the Becket altar, for which he found the Cornish artist who made the modern sculpture that stands there so impressively today. The sculpture of Christ on the newly refurbished Cathedral Gate was another commission of his time.

John was a strong supporter of the ordination of women, and conducted the pre-ordination retreat for the first women to be ordained in Canterbury Cathedral.

Music was his great love. He especially loved Bach, Schubert, Elgar, and Wagner, among others. Of course, he loved church music, and he shared a great friendship with Alan Wicks, the organist at Canterbury. He also had a great sense of humour and was something of a raconteur. During the preparations for the installation of one Archbishop of Canterbury, he was heard to observe that “Canterbury is seething with Primates.”

In his retirement, he spent many years caring for his wife, Maureen, who predeceased him. John had four children, eight grandchildren, and, in his last few months, was proud to be a great grandfather of two, and he would remind everyone that a third was on the way. His last years were in a care home, where he prayed for this troubled world and for a long list of people. He said that it was all that he could do to make a difference. He never prayed for himself.

Canon John de Sausmarez died on 27 February; his funeral was in Canterbury Cathedral on 19 March.

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