Sir Alan Goodison

Former ambassador to Ireland
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Alan Clowes Goodison, diplomat: born Sheffield, Yorkshire 20 November 1926; Head of Training Department and Director, Diplomatic Service Language Centre, FCO 1971-72, Head of South European Department 1973-76, Assistant Under-Secretary of State 1980-83; CMG 1975, KCMG 1985; Minister, Rome 1976-80; CVO 1980; ambassador to Ireland 1983-86; married 1956 Rosemary Fitton (died 1994; one son, two daughters); died London 30 June 2006.

The death of Sir Alan Goodison means that Vicars of Hampstead will no longer go in fear of headlines in the local papers beginning, "Former ambassador attacks . . ." Goodison was a Licensed Reader in the Church of England and preached regularly at Hampstead Parish Church in north London after his retirement from the Diplomatic Service in 1986. In recent years his sermons appeared on the parish website and were thus easily accessible to local journalists.

As a diplomat he had not been afraid of expressing himself forcefully even to prime ministers, notably James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher, but it often seemed that when he went into the pulpit he felt able to throw off the shackles of diplomatic speech. St Paul, St Augustine, the Protestant reformers, former Popes and Nigerian and Australian archbishops could all come in for sharp criticism as Goodison preached his idiosyncratic but generous, just and liberal interpretation of the gospel, rooted in his deep sense of the love of God. He was also brilliant at guiding small discussion groups, where the speculations of other contributors were tempered by his wit and learning.

Having grown up in a Methodist household in Nottingham, he read German at Trinity College, Cambridge, and started his diplomatic career as an Arabist. He was first licensed as a Reader to the Anglican chaplaincy in Lisbon in 1959 and continued to preach on postings to Amman, Bonn and Rome. On retiring from his last post, as ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, where he played a significant role in the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, he took first a Diploma and then an MA in Theology at King's College London.

His knowledge of Arabic language and culture and of the Koran made him sensitive to the need for, and difficulties of, interfaith dialogue. His experience of Roman Catholicism both in Rome, where he attended the funerals of Paul VI and John Paul I, and in Ireland, where he enjoyed theological discussions with the then Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, made him a sympathetic if sometimes critical participant in ecumenical dialogue. His theological training, wide experience of the Church, warmth and insight into human character made him an ideal participant in the Church's selection processes for the ordained ministry.

It was on one such selection conference in 1989 that he preached a sermon about those times in his diplomatic career when he was reminded that he might at any minute be murdered (as had been his predecessor in Dublin, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, in 1976):

You have to be ready to say, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit", at any time, and you have to be ready to do it faster than you can say it . . . You can't wait for a crisis. You have to be with God already.

His sudden death as a result of a fall at the Globe Theatre makes those words peculiarly poignant.

Stephen Tucker