The Rev Donald Harris

Click to follow
When Donald Harris resigned as Archdeacon of Bedford in 1955 and accepted the prestigious London parish of St Paul's, Knightsbridge, it was automatically assumed he had entered the second stage of his grooming for the episcopate. A string of previous incumbents had become bishops, and Father Harris seemed eminently cut out to don the purple. But it was said that when offered a colonial bishopric he replied "No thanks" on the back of a postcard, and in the event he remained at St Paul's for 23 exotic years, training able curates and ministering to a coterie of wealthy parishioners, some of whom he referred to as the Trout. "Trout for tea" in his diary meant some dowager was due to descend.

Harris was born in 1904, three and a half months ahead of the future archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, with whom he shared a prep school education at King's College Choir School in Cambridge. From there Harris went to Haileybury, where he somewhat surprisingly distinguished himself on the rugby pitch as a swift and pugnacious outside three-quarter. He returned to Cambridge, graduating in 1925, and after two years at Cuddesdon Theological College he was ordained deacon in 1927, serving his title at Chesterfield Parish Church.

It was at King's College, Cambridge, that Donald Harris, like so many clergy of his generation, fell under the spell of the dean, Eric Milner- White, later Dean of York, to whose influence Harris owed his allegiance to that sane and elegant brand of Anglo-Catholicism that became a hallmark of his ministry. And having been a chorister at King's for four years and, from 1923 to 1926, a choral scholar, he quite naturally brought to the churches he served, in particular St Paul's, a knowledge and love of music that he used to great advantage to enrich the liturgy.

For all his apparent flamboyance, and deceptively languid appearance, Donald Harris was a deeply pastoral priest, much in demand as a confessor, in particular to the clergy. From 1968 to 1971 he was president of the Association for Promoting Retreats. And he was never one for flitting from pillar to post. He gave nine years to Great Greenford as rector, and a decade to St Mary's, Bedford, when for nine years he also served as Archdeacon of Bedford, before settling down to an unfashionably long haul at St Paul's. Here his preaching skills inHoly Week attracted regular visits from Princess Margaret, whom he would happily keep waiting at the west door while he groomed his hair in the vestry.

In 1978, aged 74, still extraordinarily youthful in appearance, Harris retired to a flat in Masham Court, Westminster, where thanks to a large legacy he lived in considerable comfort. He made no secret of his wealth, and it gave him great pleasure to use it to help other people. Even in his late eighties he remained amazingly entertaining and generous company, serving to unsuspecting luncheon guests enormous and semi-lethal cocktails, the mixing of which actually gave him very little trouble; at least nine-tenths was brandy.

Michael De-la-Noy

Donald Bertram Harris, priest: born 4 August 1904; ordained deacon 1927, priest 1928; Vicar, St Mary the Less, Cambridge 1931-36; Chaplain, King's College, Cambridge 1932-33; Rector, Great Greenford 1936-45; Rector, St Mary's, Bedford 1945-55; Archdeacon of Bedford 1946-55; Vicar, St Paul's, Knightsbridge 1955-78; died London 20