Raymond Clarke: Pioneering public servant whose work paved the way for the charity Children England

The hackneyed phrase "the good and the great" can genuinely be applied to Raymond Clarke. His professional and personal instincts led him to serve the most vulnerable children and elderly people in a distinguished career, from working in what he recalled as "racially mixed, poverty-stricken, dockside Liverpool" as Warden of the University Settlement, to be head-hunted as the first full-time Clerk to the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations, which evolved into Children England.

Few would have foreseen this from his years as an organ scholar at the Royal College of Music and his service in the Grenadier Guards and the Indian Army, but Clarke was always journeying. Moving from Liverpool to run the Yorkshire Council of Social Service and then to the National Council of Social Service and the Personal Social Services Council, he developed a reputation for compassionate competence and was in demand to chair committees for the BBC, the Metrication Board and Age Concern, as well as servicing a Home Office working party on immigration, for which he was awarded the OBE; this led to the formation in 1970 of the UK Immigrants Advisory Service.

Such was the outward face of a thoughtful, cultured and civilised man. Clarke was never trapped in some stereotype of the "safe pair of hands", mainly because his Christian faith underpinned everything he said and did. Clarke stood in the Nonconformist tradition; for him faith was a constant rediscovery of what is right and necessary for personal life and for society. This independent spirit and discreet twinkle in the eye kept him intellectually and emotionally at arm's length from any role as "Sir Humphrey" or as a private-sector consultant.

In this well-balanced life he was also a JP for 25 years and was as likely to hold forth expertly and eloquently on some overlooked implication of government social policy as on a particular performance of Bach, the latter probably enjoyed at a free lunchtime organ recital which he was expert in discovering.

Clarke served the United Reformed Church with distinction, chairing the Church and Society committee of the General Assembly. His wife, Ruth, was Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC in 1992, and the Clarkes' contribution to the life of the churches was formidable, especially in matters ecumenical – they represented the URC on the British and the World Councils of Churches. He was amused when the Church of England asked him to chair a major working party on ageing – when he had just retired. One can only hope that people of such integrity, perception, intelligence and sensitivity are still to be found in key roles across society.

Peter Brain

Raymond Thurston Clarke, public servant and churchman: born 15 February 1925; OBE; married 1959 Ruth (one daughter); died Kendal 4 March 2010.