Obituary:Joan Ramsey

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The Independent Online
All those who care for strong leadership in Christianity both in England and in the Anglican Communion are in debt to Joan Ramsey. Without her it would have been impossible for anyone so shy, donnish and profound as Michael Ramsey to have become one of the most travelled and wisest Archbishops of Canterbury. It was a triumph of two diffident people; friends had expected neither of them to marry. Yet they were so in love and so in tune with each other that their service to their country and their church was outstanding.

Joan Ramsey became an intelligent and welcoming hostess in the succession of those who have set out to humanise and warm those formidable episcopal houses Auckland Castle, Bishopthorpe and Lambeth Palace. She had a genius for putting people at ease, much needed when the Archbishop had lapsed into one of his silent reveries. With her startling memory, piquant humour and smiling enquiring face she gave a special attraction to the Archbishop's many receptions and journeys.

Born Joan Hamilton, she had a clerical grandfather and uncle and knew the Church well enough to be able to laugh at it and yet share its inner face with confidence. She met Michael Ramsey in 1940 when he came from posts at Lincoln Theological College and Cambridge to be Canon and Professor of Divinity at Durham University. He did not drive a car; she did. Joan knew County Durham well and they were married in the cathedral in 1942.

In 1950 she made the first of their many moves and house renovations, going to Cambridge when he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity. They returned after only two years to Durham, but this time to Auckland Castle, when Michael was appointed Bishop. While Michael rejoiced in the history and spirituality of the castle and its chapels, Joan had to cope with the unique non-system of passages, staircases, cooking arrangements and the famous butler of that complex and exceedingly expensive pile.

Especially at Durham, but also at York and Lambeth and Canterbury, she devoted her life to making Michael and those who worked with him happy. If she called on a vicarage in Teesdale it seemed natural to take her to the kitchen and not hurry to light a fire in the drawing-room. She enjoyed political gossip and jokes and her own conversation could be acerbic, puncturing pomposity. Once at Lambeth Palace, grabbing a friend to move a wedged dining-room table, she remarked: "Lambeth is the smallest house we have lived in."

Both were old-fashioned; she admired but laughed at the Cambridge side of the Archbishop. She never gave an interview herself. She encouraged Michael to speak out, remembering he had been President of the Union. She shared his anger over South African apartheid. She encouraged him to face the authorities there and the frequent indifference of parts of the London establishment. She was beside him in every sense during his deep depression over the clerical intolerance which defeated his hopes of reunion with the Methodist Church.

Joan Ramsey endured much ill-health and they both grieved that they had no children. She enjoyed simply being beside him and he died in her arms. Her faith was rooted in the sacraments. She will enjoy the good company of Heaven.

Alan Webster

Joan Hamilton: born Lincolnshire 16 September 1910; married 1942 Michael Ramsey (created 1974 Lord Ramsey of Canterbury; died 1988); died Oxford 13 February 1995.