Obituary: The Very Rev Randolph Wise

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
RANDOLPH WISE was not the first nor the most obvious choice when he was appointed Dean of Peterborough at the end of 1980, but he proved to be the best. From the time of his installation on St Benedict's Day (21 March) 1981, he readily identified with the Benedictine inheritance of the former abbey, now a cathedral of the New Foundation, and moulded a living community which prayed and worked together. He took his time, knowing what he wanted, but seeking consensus and always being prepared to listen to others.

The scene was set with the sermon he preached to the diocese on his first St Peter's Day: his plea then was for the light of truth to be shone in every corner, "in town halls and boardrooms, in many manufacturing industries and agriculture", recognising that this called for "a rigour of thinking, a clarity of mind, a singleness of purpose". He brought to the task 10 years of experience as the Bishop of London's Industrial Chaplain, 1966- 76, followed by five years as Team Rector of Notting Hill, in west London, where he shared much in the early days of the Carnival with his Roman Catholic colleague and friend Fr Michael Hollings.

Before that he had the unique distinction of being first curate and then vicar of two parishes - Lady Margaret, Walworth, in south London, and Stocksbridge, near Sheffield. They were tough and gritty areas and he readily identified with the lives of his parishioners in these communities.

The son of a chauffeur, Wise was not ashamed of his humble origins, which enabled him to mix with all who came to his door as easily as with the Queen, who once arrived at Peterborough for a royal visit. His love of music began with his time as a chorister at Southwark Cathedral (where he was later ordained in 1951). As a schoolboy at the start of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Torquay with the whole of his school, St Olave's. Later, he served in the Royal Navy and, as a sub-lieutenant, had command of a minesweeper sailing out of Trincomalee: he always valued his links with the Naval Association, which endeared him to members of the British Legion on successive Remembrance Sundays.

He accomplished much during his time at Peterborough, when his gift for friendship came to the fore. He led a successful appeal for funds, launched the Peterborough Cathedral Festival and organised the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the consecration of Peterborough Abbey in 1988, attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Earlier on, The Barchester Chronicles were filmed for television in the Cathedral and Precincts, but nobody could say that Barchester still lived whilst Wise was around.

However, he will be remembered far more for the person he was than for what he achieved. He exemplified the Benedictine virtue of stabilitas, staying put - one of his mottoes was "Grow where you're planted". Although he never liked confrontation, it was because he genuinely tried to see the other person's point of view. It is rare to find someone as unfailingly kind and considerate. Despite personal difficulties, he always had time for others and constantly gave encouragement. His spiritual life was centred on the daily office and eucharist and he was much sought after as a confessor.

He studied theology at Queen's College, Oxford, under Dennis Nineham, who made him see the value of searching criticism. David Jenkins was a fellow undergraduate and went on with him to Lincoln Theological College, that home of liberal catholicism which alas is no more. They were close to the end, and he remained a firm advocate when the swirls of controversy surrounded the Bishop of Durham. Wise would never betray a friend.

Before he left Lincoln he married Hazel Simpson, whom he had first met when she was nursing in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Their four daughters and a clutch of grandchildren evoked constant affection. From their first parsonage together the home was open to all; Hazel's warmth and interest in people matched Randolph's ability to discern their needs and find the right word for every occasion.

His time at Peterborough coincided with an upsurge in interest in cathedrals with tourists being encouraged to become pilgrims. Votive candles, which are now taken for granted in most cathedrals, were introduced to Peterborough in his time. As secretary to the Deans and Provosts' Conference, Wise helped to prepare the way for the report of the Archbishops' Commission, Heritage and Renewal, which is being implemented by the new Cathedrals Measure.

Randolph Wise's style of leadership can be summed up by something he wrote whilst still at Notting Hill. "In order to appreciate the work of leadership, it is important to note that administrative structures are simply the tools of Christian ministry. This means that the use of any structure by a leader means a commitment to produce life, growth, vitality. So the leader has to accept risk and precariousness. Some administrative structures, especially when imposed from above, can confine, cramp and stifle, instead of having the liberating effect which best serves the Gospel." That he proved at Peterborough.

Thomas Christie

Randolph George Wise, priest: born London 20 January 1925; ordained deacon 1951, priest 1952; Assistant Curate, Lady Margaret, Walworth 1951- 53, Vicar 1955-60; Assistant Curate, Stocksbridge, Sheffield 1953-55, Vicar 1960-66; Bishop of London's Industrial Chaplain 1966-76; Guild Vicar, St Botolph, Aldersgate 1972-76; Rector of Notting Hill 1976-81; Dean of Peterborough 1981-92 (Dean Emeritus 1997); married 1951 Hazel Simpson (four daughters); died Oakham, Leicestershire 9 September 1999.

Comments