Obituary: The Rev Halsey Colchester

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The Independent Online
Halsey Colchester was an ex-diplomat, ex-SAS officer and ex-spy (he would only admit reluctantly that he "ran the personnel department" in MI6) who, on his retirement in 1972, became a priest.

Of his career as a spy he said little, although he is remembered by former members of the Secret Intelligence Service as an efficient as well as kindly and intelligent head of personnel.

Heads of personnel in MI6 are key figures in the recruitment of secret agents and the quality of those we have had, and have, owes much to Colchester's discernment. The head of personnel has always to supply tender loving care but not without a clear idea of who deserves to survive and who doesn't. Nicholas Elliott, the former MI6 representative in Ankara, and author of that enigmatically titled memoir Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella, confirmed the high opinion his contemporaries had of Colchester. Hedoes not appear in Peter Wright's book. He is not easily identifiable in Smiley's Circus. He deeply disapproved of the Cambridge Five and the whole literature which followed, and still follows. In their wake, he maintained traditional values and attitudes to politics as to religion, without pomposity but very firmly.

The change in their life his becoming a priest caused his wife Rozanne and their large family was cheerfully borne and a new career developed. He was a wonderful pastoral parish priest, the better perhaps for having taken to it in middle age. After serving his curacy at Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, he became vicar of Bollington in the Chester Diocese in 1976. In 1981 he was appointed vicar of Great and Little Tew in Oxfordshire, where he became fast friends with high and low, rich and poor alike. This sounds like a statement too often made in obituaries but in Halsey Colchester's case it contains a literal and important truth. As pastor to two small but tough-minded parishes he combined the pastoral care that is every parish clergyman's duty with an individual appreciation of the different qualities, talents and weaknesses of particular parishioners, while remaining his own man. Though he was especially good with children and taught regularly in the village school, accompanied by a huge teddy bear, his ability to respond uniquely to one adult person after another was an even more precious characteristic.

He retired from the Tews in 1987 and I followed in his footsteps, knowing well how impossible it is to be any sort of successor to someone so universally acclaimed, so transparently the right man in the right job. In the event it turned out well, and when I went to Edinburgh he came back for a further stint which was brought to an end only when a serious heart condition developed. He remained active, however, christening grandchildren, enjoying a great family Christmas, in touch with a host of friends of all ages and many backgrounds.

Halsey Sparrowe Colchester, intelligence officer and priest: born 5 March 1918; Diplomatic Service 1947-72; Foreign Office 1948-50, 1954-56, 1964-68; Second Secretary, Istanbul 1950-54; Consul, Zurich 1956-60; First Secretary, Athens 1960-64; OBE 1960; Counsellor, Paris 1968-72; CMG 1968; ordained deacon 1973, priest 1974; curate, Minchinhampton 1973-76; Vicar of Bollington 1976-81; Priest in Charge, Great Tew 1981-87, 1990-91; married 1946 Rozanne Medhurst (four sons, one daughter); died 27 January 1995.

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