Obituary: Sir Joshua Rowley Bt

St John Gore
Thursday 27 February 1997 00:02

Joshua Rowley's life in Suffolk led inevitably to his selection as Lord-Lieutenant, a position he skilfully held from 1978 to 1994. His career, after education at Eton and Trinity, Cambridge, followed a pre- determined pattern of service to his county.

Before that, however, the Second World War intervened. After serving with the Grenadier Guards in North Africa and Italy, he was captured, and remained a prisoner until the war ended. On his return to England he was appointed Adjutant of the training battalion at Windsor, where he was remembered as a strict disciplinarian.

In the early 1950s he did a spell with the National Trust as Deputy Secretary. This was at a time when the trust's crusading but humane spirit had not been victimised by bureacuracy; there followed a 30-year association with the trust, as vice-chairman of its East Anglian Regional Committee, a stalwart upholder of its standards. In 1962, on the death of his father, Colonel Sir Charles Rowley, he succeeded as seventh baronet.

His zeal for preservation and his knowledge of and love of Suffolk led to the ladder of local government. In 1971 he was elected chairman of the West Suffolk County Council; the vice-chairmanship and, in 1976, the chairmanship followed of the newly formed Suffolk County Council. Rowley was responsible for the massive task of remodelling as one entity the two existing Education Departments of East and West Suffolk - by far the largest department of the council.

On his resignation in 1978, when he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant, his life became wholly devoted to his beloved county. This was but an extension of his responsibilities in his village, Stoke-by-Nayland, which he had guided with a patrician sense of duty, and a concern, shared with his wife Celia, for the welfare of all who lived in it.

Joshua Rowley's interests might be described as those of an old-fashioned country squire. There was little change in his appearance between the portrait which hangs in his house of him as a rubicund child, a gun under his arm, and the well-built man he grew into. If the land and the people came first, dogs were not far behind. Perhaps his favourite pastimes were field trials and shooting. His knowledge and understanding of the countryside, of its open spaces, its wildlife and its buildings was extensive. There were few preservation, or indeed local, societies of which he was not president.

"Old-fashioned" is perhaps a dangerous epithet, but in so far as it suggests the maintenance of high standards, without short cuts, it is apt enough. In kitchen and cellar, as well as in the careful, rehearsed organisation of royal visits, only a Grenadier's orderly room procedure was countenanced.

A man of high religious principles and unshakeable faith, he was concerned first for his own beautiful church in Stoke-by-Nayland, of which he was patron; but all Suffolk churches were to become his beneficiaries. He was an early supporter of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust. He also played a major role in the reconstitution of St James's Church in Bury St Edmunds as the new St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

A succession of illnesses during the last year of Rowley's life left him in too weak a state to combat the brutal infliction of a stroke. As he once observed in reply to an enquiry after his health, "Back to the place where we all spend so much of our time: square one."

St John Gore

Joshua Francis Rowley, local politician and public servant: born 31 December 1920; Deputy Secretary, National Trust 1952-55; succeeded 1962 as seventh Bt; chairman, West Suffolk County Council 1971-74; vice-chairman, Suffolk County Council 1974-76, chairman 1976-78; Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk 1973-78, Lord-Lieutenant 1978-94; married 1959 The Hon Celia Monckton (one daughter); died Hadleigh, Suffolk 21 February 1997.

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