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Obituary: The Right Rev Robert Martineau

EDUCATED AT King Edward's School in Birmingham and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Robert Martineau - Bishop of Blackburn from 1972 to 1981 - was an outstanding mathematician who might well have gone on to a highly successful career in that field.

Instead he responded to a vocation to the priesthood and trained at Westcott House in Cambridge. He was ordained in 1938 and was a curate at Melksham in Wiltshire when his parochial work was interrupted by the Second World War; he served as a chaplain in the RAFVR from 1941 to 1946. He returned to parish work as Vicar of Ovenden in Halifax. In 1952 he moved to be Vicar of the large parish of Allerton in Liverpool. This was to be the longest appointment of his 43 years of full-time ministry.

A senior colleague with very wide knowledge of the Church of England considered that with Martineau at the helm Allerton was the best- organised parish he had ever met. It was a prosperous church with no great difficulty in paying its way. Its vicar, who in his RAFVR service had seen the needs of missionary work in Africa and now saw the plight of neighbouring inner-city parishes, successfully challenged the congre- gation with the teaching of Christian stewardship. Giving was doubled and the increased income given to the needy at home and abroad.

Not surprisingly Martineau became Rural Dean, was made an Honorary Canon of Liverpool Cathedral and elected by his fellow clergy to represent them on the General Synod of the Church of England. After 14 years at Allerton he was chosen to be the Suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon in the Diocese of Ely, where he also served as a Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral.

In 1972 he became Bishop of Blackburn. He was proud to be the only bishop who had in his younger days been a Lay Reader. This experience enabled him to be an excellent Chairman of the Central Readers' Board of the Church of England and to publish The Office and Work of a Reader (1970).

Blackburn with its many Church of England schools fostered Martineau's already great interest in education and led to his appointment as Chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, a post he held from 1973 to 1979.

His nine years as a diocesan bishop were the pinnacle of his working life. He had a very natural sense of authority and those who did not know him well were inclined to think of him as somewhat cold by nature. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There was, perhaps, a shyness but, as one colleague put it, "There [was] a very warm and loving person inside trying to get out." He had a quiet and subtle sense of humour accompanied by a knowing twinkle of the eye.

As a bishop he gave first-class pastoral care and wise counsel to his clergy. That is work deeply appreciated by those who were helped by it but by its very nature it never hits the headlines. Blackburn clergy soon came to appreciate their bishop's parish experience. Here, for example, was a man who had prepared many people for marriage, who could pass on invaluable tips about confirmation preparation and the aftercare of candidates, who could understand the stresses of their life at "the coal face" and who also knew when they were "trying it on". From personal experience there came books like The Office and Work of a Priest (1972) and Moments that Matter (1976).

Not every priest with such an outstanding intellect can understand "Mrs Stiggins who sits in the third pew from the back". Martineau did understand and when he produced his Lent Book, for the people of his diocese, with daily readings, prayers and resolutions, it was a model of simplicity combined with an acute penetration of the human soul. His time management enabled him to combine demanding national and diocesan duties with a readiness to be available to those who needed to talk to him.

Retirement often focuses the mind on what has been, and is, important. In his last address to the Diocesan Synod he put his finger on what he had come to see as of prime importance in society. Christian marriage and Christian family life were the foundations on which good citizens and a caring society were built. This, in his own life, came from a deep and faithful life of prayer and very much from his own marriage and family which were so dear to him.

Laying down full-time work for any priest tends to be a change of gear rather than a full stop. His ministry continued in North Wales after retirement and was much appreciated there. Why North Wales? A twinkle of the eye and "Right for my wife because she is Welsh and right for me because I can easily get to Anfield to watch Liverpool."

David Robinson

Robert Arnold Schurhoff Martineau, priest: born Birmingham 22 August 1913; ordained deacon 1938, priest 1939; curate, Melksham 1938- 41; chaplain, RAFVR 1941-46; Vicar, Ovenden, Halifax 1946-52; Vicar, Allerton, Liverpool 1952-66; Bishop Suffragan of Huntingdon 1966-72; Residentiary Canon of Ely 1966-72; Bishop of Blackburn 1972-81; married 1941 Elinor Gertrude Ap-Thomas (one son, two daughters); died Denbigh, Clwyd 28 June 1999.