Obituary: The Right Rev Gordon Roe

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The Independent Culture
A MAN of deep prayer, passionate concern for people and broad scholarship, Gordon Roe, Suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon from 1980 until 1997, represented much of what is best in the Anglican tradition.

Born in 1932 in Bournemouth when his father Pat was a local maintenance man, Roe excelled at Bournemouth School before going on to gain a good degree in Modern Languages at Jesus College, Oxford, where he coxed the college boat.

National Service in Dusseldorf in the Education Corps was followed by preparation for the ministry at St Stephen's House in Oxford, on whose Council he was later to play a significant role in the difficult days following the decision to ordain women, a move which he supported.

Ordination in 1958 to a title at St Peter's Bournemouth, the society church of the town, where he was to form a lifelong friendship with the Senior Curate, Eric Evans, later Dean of St Paul's, and then eight years at Abingdon at St Michael's when he was Priest-in-Charge marked him out as a man of distinctive pastoral gifts with his firm yet gentle leadership.

He was a voracious reader and his doctoral thesis "Lammenais and England", a study of the 19th-century French writer Felicite de Lammenais' religious ideas in England, was published in 1966. In 1976, with A. Hutchings, Roe wrote J.B. Dykes, Priest and Musician, a biography of the 19th-century English composer of hymn tunes.

There were those who thought that Roe was destined for a life in theological education and in 1969 he became Vice-Principal of St Chad's College in Durham. Whether taking a party of students to Iona, sitting and drinking coffee round the kitchen table or teaching in the classroom, he relished the exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation.

In 1974 Roe became Vicar of St Oswald's and Rural Dean of Durham. He was an open and caring vicar and his wide responsibilities enabled him in creative and imaginative ways to bring town and gown together in a not unproblematic parish and deanery.

George Carey, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and Alan Chesters, later Bishop of Blackburn, were members of the Deanery chapter. It was during this time that Stephen Sykes was Van Mildert Professor in Durham and it was not without Roe's influence that he later became Bishop of Ely.

Eschewing the opportunity to become principal of a theological college in Australia, in 1989 Roe accepted the offer from Peter Walker, the Bishop of Ely, to become his suffragan bishop. Here was an ideal opportunity to exercise his spiritual, pastoral and intellectual gifts. A person of broad sympathies, whether he was at a college feast, inducting a priest in a fenland parish or saying prayers with the women peace campaigners at Alconbury, he was always the same. Although a person slight in stature, Gordon Roe was a man of indomitable courage, never fearing to nail his colours to the mast.

Building up ecumenical links throughout Europe and America, Roe spearheaded a partnership between the Diocese of Ely and the Episcopal Area of Schleswig in Germany. Following the sign- ing of the Meissen Agreement in 1991 to bring the Church of England and the Protestant Church in Germany closer together, Roe was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to become Co-Chairman of the Meissen Commission, with Hans Christian Knuth, the Bishop in Schleswig, as his German counterpart. Hard theological questions were never ducked and important links were made between the churches.

Roe was particularly thrilled when in 1996 the Anglia Polytechnic University presented him with an Honorary Doctorate.

Gordon Roe had been a sickly child, and the last 13 years of his life were dogged by problems with his heart and chest. Returning to Bournemouth in 1997 to his wife's family home, he did not take to retirement easily. He often felt isolated and hampered by not being able to do the things he wanted. Despite those frustrations he continued his notable ministry and was in demand as a spiritual director.

Roe is survived by Mary, his wife of 46 years, whom he had met at school during a performance of Murder in the Red Barn. She was herself a theology graduate and theirs was a powerful partnership, Mary's practical nature keeping Gordon's feet firmly on the ground. He was proud of their four children and nine grandchildren, and was remarkably good with children. Gordon's brother Peter is a priest in the Birmingham diocese.

William Gordon Roe, priest: born Bournemouth, Hampshire 5 January 1932; ordained deacon 1958, priest 1959; Curate of Bournemouth 1958-61; Priest-in-charge, St Michael's, Abingdon 1961-69; Vice-Principal, St Chad's College, Durham 1969-74; Vicar, St Oswald's, Durham 1974-80; Rural Dean of Durham 1974-80; Chaplain, Collingwood College, Durham 1974-80; Honorary Canon of Durham Cathedral 1979-80; Bishop Suffragan of Huntingdon 1980-97; Chairman, Meissen Commission 1991-96; married 1953 Mary Andreen (two sons, two daughters); died Bournemouth, Dorset 19 July 1999.