Obituaries: The Right Rev George Henderson

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The Independent Online
George Henderson, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles from 1977 to 1992 and Primus of the Episcopal Church 1990-92, was a remarkable personality both in the Scottish Episcopal Church and in the local community.

Both as a parish priest and as a bishop, he was a dedicated pastor; he was also widely recognised as a staunch upholder of the traditional beliefs and discipline of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the abandonment in some quarters of what he held precious, such as the ordination of women, caused him great anguish.

Equally staunch was his belief that Christianity is concerned with the whole person, with material welfare as well as spiritual, and he gave practical expression to this by involving himself in politics, making no secret of the fact that he was committed to what he himself called full-blooded Socialism.

In his early years at Fort William this did not go down well with some sections of the community, but as time went by his obvious sincerity and his personality gained him the respect and friendship of many who disagreed with his views. He served for many years on the Fort William town council and eventually became provost of the town.

He held this position until it was abolished when local government was reorganised in 1975. During his period in office he played an important part in bringing to the area the huge Wiggins Teape pulp mill at nearby Corpach. This in turn led to a big increase in the population of the area with a consequent need for more housing.

George Henderson was born in Oban in 1921 and educated locally at St John's Episcopal Primary School and Oban High School. He went on to take a BA degree with Distinction at St Chad's College, Durham, and trained for the priesthood at Edinburgh Theological College. He was ordained deacon in 1943 slightly under the normal canonical age of 23, and for the next five years served as a curate at Christ Church, Mile End, in Glasgow, under a notable priest, Canon William Cooper.

From Glasgow he returned to his native diocese of Argyll and the Isles as priest-in-charge of Onich with Kinlochleven. In 1950 he was appointed Rector of St Andrew's, Fort William, where he remained until he was appointed bishop of the diocese in 1977.

Although the number of Episcopalians in the diocese is very small, the geographical area is huge, stretching on the mainland from Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre in the south almost to Fort Augustus in the north. In addition there are the Outer and Inner Hebrides as well as islands like Arran, Cumbrae and Bute in the Firth of Clyde area. To travel round this area by land, sea and air is extremely time-consuming and can prove hazardous, especially in winter.

Before becoming bishop Henderson had served as an honorary sheriff and was also a JP. It was a fitting tribute to him for all the service he rendered to the community when he was appointed MBE and was also made a Freeman of Fort William.

In spite of all the demands made upon his time by his church and civic duties Henderson read avidly and was blessed with an exceptional memory, so that long afterwards he could recall what he had read and often the actual page of the book where he had read it.

Equally impressive was his memory for people with whom he had had dealings. Not surprisingly, he accumulated a great store of information which made him an interesting and entertaining speaker both in and out of the pulpit and he had a flair for being able to produce exactly the right quotation for any occasion.

Despite a normally rather gloomy expression, he possessed great wit and was very good company. He hated being on his own and he and his wife Isobel, whom he married when he first came to Fort William, extended constant and generous hospitality to a wide and mixed circle of acquaintances.

George Kennedy Buchanan Henderson, priest and politician: born Oban 5 December 1921; ordained deacon 1943, priest 1945; Assistant Curate, Christ Church, Glasgow 1943-48; Priest in Charge, St Bride's, Nether Lochaber 1948-50; Chaplain to the Bishop of Argyll 1948- 50; Rector, St Andrew's, Fort William 1950-77; Provost of Fort William 1962-75; Dean of Argyll and the Isles 1973-77, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles 1977-92; MBE 1974; Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland 1990-92; married 1950 Isobel Bowman; died Onich, Inverness-shire 26 September 1996.