Obituary: W. H. Saumarez Smith
Monday 02 May 1994
W. H. SAUMAREZ SMITH was one of those legendary administrators without whom the machinery of Governance would fall to pieces. Throughout the Civil Service at home, in the Colonies and most famously in India, a small cadre of immensely able and highly educated men strove to create a just, efficient and honourable system of government for vast tracts of land and millions of human beings. There were exceptions, of course, but the majority were motivated by the highest ideals of service. Like Bill Saumarez Smith many were deeply religious and felt their career to be a vocation. Like him, many were sons of the Rectory.
Saumarez Smith had all the qualities that often stereotype the breed. He was a Wykehamist and then at Trinity College, Cambridge, he learned the habits of meticulous scholarly attention to detail which never left him. In 1934 he joined the Indian Civil Service and was given a crash course in Bengali, in which he became fluent. He was posted to an appalling outpost of Empire in Bengal where a huge and desperately poor population struggled to survive in a vast delta. In his early twenties he found himself responsible for a region half the size of Wales. Communications and travel were almost entirely by boat, the system of justice and government dauntingly complex, his superiors erratic. The job was also dangerous; a number of officers had previously been assassinated. In A Young Man's Country (1977), subtitled 'Letters of a Subdivisional Officer of the Indian Civil Service 1936- 1937', he has left a vivid account of these later years of the ICS; a valuable contribution to the literature of the Empire.
On one of his periods of home leave he met and married Betty, the daughter of the formidable Canon Charles Raven, Master of Christ's College, Cambridge. Together they travelled back via the Cape to a new post on wartime secondment to the Central Government in Delhi, where he was an Under-Secretary to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow. Finally he became Deputy Secretary to Sir Frederick Burrows, the last Governor of Bengal before Partition. Like many other ICS officials he returned home after the Partition in 1947 with an OBE.
At this point it seemed natural to him to find a new career in the service of the Church rather than to move into the Home or Colonial Civil Service. He became one of the post-war generation of able lay church administrators, first as Secretary to the Board of Finance in Salisbury, then in 1958 as Assistant Secretary to the Central Board of Finance in London and, from 1962, as General Secretary to the Central Advisory Council for the Training of the Ministry. In 1966 he became the first Appointments Secretary to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, as which he exercised an immense and benign influence on senior appointments of Bishops and Deans. He reckoned he had advised on the appointment of 39 Diocesan Bishops, 30 Deans and 52 Suffragans. In this period he also wrote a definitive Report on the Non-Stipendiary Ministry which largely moulded its future development.
During Saumarez Smith's time in Salisbury he had come to know and love the parishes and countryside of Dorset and Wiltshire: so it was within sight of Salisbury Cathedral that he made his retirement home. He was made one of the first Lay Canons of the Cathedral, sitting in on all Chapter Meetings as a lay adviser. In discussing cathedral finances or administration he never lost his eye for detail nor his keen sense of Christian values. His judgement was shrewd and humane, humorous and always generous. He hated cant and prejudice and could be famously indignant about thoughtless conservatism. His faith was private but profound and his stooped figure will be missed in the Canons' Stalls at services in the Cathedral. The Church has lost one of its most notable servants and his wide circle of friends an exceptionally dear man.
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