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
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'