Obituary: Sir Ronald Harris

Ronald Montague Joseph Harris, civil servant: born 6 May 1913; Private Secretary to Secretary of the Cabinet 1939-43; MVO 1943, KCVO 1960; Second Crown Estate Commissioner 1955-60; CB 1956; Third Secretary, HM Treasury 1960-64; Secretary to Church Commissioners 1964-68; First Church Estates Commissioner 1969-82; married 1939 Julia Wharton (died 1955; one son, three daughters), 1957 Marjorie Tryon (died 1986); died 22 January 1995.

Ronald Harris had two very different careers, in both of which he achieved distinction, although it was the second which gave him the deeper satisfaction. The first was as a distinguished civil servant, the second in the service of the Church Estates Commission.

After an education at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford, Harris entered the Civil Service and was appointed to the India Office and Burma Office, then one of the most politically fraught areas of government. In 1939, however, he was selected to be Private Secretary to the Secretary of the Cabinet, then Sir Edward Bridges, a post he held until 1943 in some of the most intensive and demanding years of the Second World War. Thereafter he returned to his parent department, at the start of an exceptionally varied Whitehall service.

In the 20 years from 1944 to 1964 he became his Minister's Principal Private Secretary, enjoyed a year's education at the Imperial Defence College, undertook two tours of duty both at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, and from 1955 to 1960 was Second Crown Estate Commissioner, an experience which turned out to be directly relevant to his later responsibility for the landed property of the Church.

In 1964 Harris was persuaded to move from the service of the State to that of the Church. For some four years he was Secretary to the Church Commissioners and in 1969 succeeded Lord Silsoe in the key appointment of First Church Estates Commissioner, serving in that capacity until 1982.

The administration of the Commissioners' office at Millbank was not in itself an unduly heavy burden for a man of Harris's ability and experience. His tenure at Millbank was however marked in two principal ways. First, his financial control was strict and efficient, but not short-sighted. Significant improvements were achieved in both the stipends and the pensions of the clergy. From 1978 to 1982 he was, additionally, Chairman of the Church's Central Board of Finance. There can be no doubt that, in retirement, Harris was grieved that his tight, but productive, control was not in all respects continued.

The second important feature of his time at Millbank was the trouble he took over the Commissioners' relationship with the General Synod. While standing firm over those matters in which the Commissioners exercised an independent responsibility, he took endless trouble over his contributions to the Synod's debates and was ever ready to explain any matter which excited interest. Together with Dame Betty Ridley, the Third Commissioner, he inaugurated an era of understanding and respect for Millbank's work.

In a busy life Ronald Harris found room for many outside activities including the Chairmanship of Benenden School Council and the Friends of the Yehudi Menuhin School which was almost literally on his doorstep. Sadly, for a man to whom family life meant much, he was twice a widower. More happily both his children and his stepchildren formed a close family unit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015