Obituary : The Very Rev Eric Evans

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The Independent Online
Eric Evans had been Dean of St Paul's since 1988, a surprise move following 25 years in Gloucester, which placed him in the tradition of distinguished scholars and leading churchmen from John Donne in the 17th century to William Inge and W.R. Matthews in our own.

Evans was born in Tenby in 1928 and, after studying at St David's College, Lampeter, and St Catherine's Society at Oxford (while training for the priesthood at St Stephen's House), he was ordained in 1954 to a curacy at Margate Parish Church. It was at Margate that he met his lifelong friend, companion and wonderfully supportive wife, Linda Budge. They married in 1957 and in the following year they moved to Bournemouth, where Evans became senior curate at St Peter's. Undeceived by the outward gentility of the Bournemouth area, Evans volunteered to be trained as a Samaritan and became both founder and first director of the Bournemouth branch of the Samaritans.

Evans had a natural way with the young and led parties of them regularly to the Holy Land. It was this that led to his being invited by the diocese of Gloucester to be their youth chaplain in 1962. In this work, he combined an extraordinary sense of fun and an infectious enthusiasm with a real seriousness about the Christian way of life and an understanding of the Christian faith. He could sit in a field with a glass of beer and at the same time explain very cogently to the young people around him St Paul's understanding of the redemption as set out in the Epistle to the Romans.

Evans's ability to communicate by word and example made him the obvious candidate for being Canon Missioner of Gloucester. His patience with people and understanding of the difficulties of the clergy, sometimes depressed by small congregations and the general apathy of the 1960s, singled him out as the right person to succeed as Archdeacon of Cheltenham.

He was at the same time honorary chaplain to the Gloucester Constabulary - which saved him from the long arm of the law on at least one occasion. He was accustomed to give the local police a large box of apples each Christmas Eve. One night, just after Christmas, he put his foot down on an A-class road and at 85 plus found himself flagged down by a patrol car. "Good evening, Archdeacon," said the policeman. "I just wanted to thank you for that lovely box of apples you gave us for Christmas. And by the way, were we in a bit of a hurry?"

Gloucester took him to their heart. He was a friend to so many, governor of Cheltenham Ladies' College, Wing Chaplain of the ATC, Honorary Chaplain to the Gloucester College of Education, Chairman of the Gloucester Training Committee, and Vice-Chairman of the Gloucester Association for Mental Health. By this time, he was a proctor in Convocation, Chairman of the Council for the Care of Churches and a director of the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Eric Evans brought life and hope to almost every group which invited him to join. It was undoubtedly this that led to his being pressed into becoming Dean of St Paul's. It was said at the time that the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral was not the happiest and perhaps not the best of teams, however remarkable its individual members. Evans was appointed in 1988 and by 1990 had lost three very distinguished members of the Chapter and had to rebuild from those who were sent to him by the Crown. He was here clearly at a disadvantage, but his natural skill at building a team and his amazing ability to appreciate people instead of denigrating them or treating them as rivals stood him in good stead.

Chapter Meetings were not the fastest, but Evans fought valiantly for a consensus and ensured that only very rarely would the Chapter ever come to a vote. He did not try to control everything in the cathedral, he knew whom he could trust and left people to do their own work. He was regularly in the building, not just at worship, but talking to the staff, listening to their problems, caring for them in times of need.

The City and indeed the Orders of Chivalry of which he was Dean found in Evans a real friend. He met with them, he lunched with them, he dined with them, he was a past master at the after-dinner speech; he received many a confidence and was looked upon by those he met in the course of his duties as a priest who could be trusted.

For it is as a priest that Eric Evans has to be remembered, a sound teacher of the faith and a robust preacher. He was a man of faith and a man who knew what were the obligations of that faith. He never considered himself too grand to make a cup of tea for a tramp at the door (which he did regularly), or to sit down with a member of St Paul's work staff and sort out a problem. He saw much more good in people than he saw bad (though he was very shrewd at spotting a rogue). He was a great traveller and a mine of information about the his-tory and topography of the Mediterranean (he lectured annually on Swann Hellenic Cruises).

He fought valiantly against arthritis which had plagued him since he was 41, and against chest infections which became in recent years increasingly difficult and complex. But, again, his amazing cheerfulness and interest in other people enabled him to steer through so many difficulties with honour. But that is what his faith taught him, and what he was able to communicate to so many others who found in him a great friend and a great assurance.

Thomas Eric Evans, priest: born Tenby, Pembrokeshire 1 February 1928; ordained deacon 1954, priest 1955; Curate, Margate Parish Church 1954- 55; Senior Curate, St Peter's, Bournemouth 1958-62; Diocesan Youth Chaplain, Gloucester 1962-69; Residentiary Canon of Gloucester Cathedral 1969-88, Canon Missioner 1969-75; Archdeacon of Cheltenham 1975-88; Chairman, Council for Places of Worship (subsequently Council for the Care of Churches) 1981-88; Dean of St Paul's 1988-96; Dean, Order of St Michael and St George 1988-96; Dean, Order of the British Empire 1988-96; KCVO 1996; married 1957 Linda Budge (two daughters); died 17 August 1996.