Lives Remembered: Ron Paterson

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The Independent Online

The Revd Gordon Ronald Paterson MBE, who died in December 2009 at the age of 93, lived three lives. Ron joined the navy at the age of 16 in 1932 and served before, during and after the Second World War. He was ordained in 1959 and served for another 26 years as a parish priest, most of them as Vicar of Swanmore in the Portsmouth diocese. From 1985 he retired in the nearby small town of Bishop's Waltham and led an extremely active live for a further 24 years.

In all three parts of his life he showed the same qualities: a simple but unshakable Christian faith, a love for people of all ages and conditions and a passion for peace, reconciliation and justice. He was also a man of extraordinary bravery, as evidenced particularly in the theatres of war in which he served. He believed the best of people. He was an Irishman who agonised over Ireland: how could apparently Christian people – Protestant and Catholic alike – so hate eachother that they could conspire to inflict untold suffering on eachother? He simply could not come to terms with the extent of human evil.

During the war Ron was involved in the perilous task of escorting convoys across the Atlantic and to Murmansk, for which he was awarded the Arctic Star, while on D-Day he was assistant beachmaster on Juno Beach. He was sent to the Far East, and when war ended was in charge of 600 American troops who had suffered appallingly as prisoners of the Japanese.

At Swanmore from 1962-85 Ron was vicar not just of the church but of the whole village. He was a member of the Parish Council, becoming vice-chairman. He refounded the Scouts, the Youth Club, the Tennis Club and the Cricket Club. With lay assistance he raised the large sums needed to rebuild, in three stages, the church voluntary-aided school.

Ron's later years at Swanmore were marked by personal tragedy. His first wife, the mother of his four children, died of a brain tumour at the age of 52. Five years later his younger son Andrew had a heart attack at the age of 22. He had a heart transplant and lived for three years but a second transplant failed and he died. A year later Ron's second wife died, also of a brain tumour. Despite blows which might have destroyed a lesser man he continued his ministry at Swanmore, his care for people, if anything, deepened by the suffering he had himself endured.

In retirement Ron raised £36,000 towards the Paterson Centre, built and named in gratitude for his ministry at Swanmore. He did this thanks to a series of sponsored pilgrimages to cathedrals and other churches devised and accompanied by him. He was chaplain of seven naval organisations and only relinquished these treasured naval links when he was over 90. At the Thanskgiving Service in a packed church at St Peter's Bishop's Waltham, their standards were presented, and at the end of the Service the Last Post and Reveille were sounded by naval representatives.

Peter R. Watkins

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