Obituary: John Earp (C2 1932-38)

John was born in Clarksburg, Ontario, in 1919. By 1926, his father had moved to Versailles, France as chaplain to the British community. John lived in France for two years till he was 9 and at that point spoke French better than English.

In 1928, his father took a parish at Escot in East Devon and John was sent to Cheam, and from there to Marlborough College in 1932 on a scholarship, becoming Head of C2 and excelling in Classics and sports, especially Rugby and Athletics. His housemaster was Reginald (‘Jumbo’) Jennings for whom he retained a warm affection in later life. John became heavily involved in evangelical Christian activities. One of his C2 contemporaries was Alex Moulton, the inventor of the folding bicycle, who gave him the slightly barbed nickname ‘Jesus John.’

In 1938 the name turned out to be both prophetic and appropriate when he went up to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics, then Divinity. He was a notable sportsman, gaining a wartime blue for Rugby and becoming President of the Athletics Club.

He graduated in 1942 and had call-up papers for the RAF in the same post as the offer of a place at Ridley Hall, a theological college in Cambridge with a strong evangelical tradition. He chose to answer the call-up to the ministry, and after ordination, became curate at St Paul’s Portman Square, a large and very busy parish just off the Marylebone Road in London.

In 1944 he married Dorothy, only child of a famously eccentric Cambridge Classics don. They endured the last year of the War in London, with the bombing and the privations – they were often unable to afford the 1/- lunches at the local British Restaurant.

In 1946 he was invited back to join the staff at Ridley and eventually spent 5 years as Vice Principal . He also served a year (1954- 1955) as Junior Proctor, an ancient office as a kind of university policeman and something of a distinction. Duties included patrolling the streets at night accompanied by two henchmen, known as Bulldogs, to apprehend students bent on misconduct.

In 1956, John became Assistant Chaplain at Eton College. John was always proud of his time at Eton: the pupils who were ‘up to him’, some of whom became distinguished public figures, the colourful and talented staff who were his colleagues.

In 1962, aged 43, he left Eton to become Vicar of Hartley Wintney, a large, lively and socially varied parish in north-east Hampshire where he stayed for an exceptional 26 years. He served as Rural Dean for a time, but declined all offers of more prestigious – or less demanding – appointments, believing that he was called to complete the work God had asked him to do there.

When Dorothy developed a lymphoma in the late 80s John brought forward his retirement to nurse her. They moved to Sheringham in North Norfolk. Dorothy died in 1992. John had a happy second marriage, to Minty, widow of a schoolfriend; she provided a further decade of companionship, a real Indian Summer for them both – sadly cut short by Minty’s death in 2004.

The time came, in 2013, when John moved in with his son and daughter-in-law in Cley. He had a new lease of life. He relished the many opportunities they gave him – frequent trips to the theatre and cinema, country houses, the monthly Poetry Group, the nightly challenge of the Word Wheel in The Times; they welcomed his visitors, ran his busy diary and gave him unsurpassed care.

He was deeply appreciative of the care taken of him. He loved small children, and was particularly delighted by the arrival of two great-grandchildren. He laughed a great deal – at jokes, especially puns, at New Yorker cartoons, funny birthday cards. He adored any dish with apples: ‘John’s a pudding man’ he would say. Crosswords were a lifelong habit, and he retained his prowess at them even after other functions of his brain were starting to show their age. He possessed a formidable knowledge of the Bible, buttressed by his learning in Classics and Hebrew. All his life he collected and catalogued: photographs, postcards, coins, stamps, sermon notes, visitors guides to places he had been to – and threw away nothing. He had firm views on the correct procedures for washing up, and etiquette in general. He mounted guard against the sloppy use of English His old-fashioned manners required him to stand up every time a lady entered or left a room – an increasingly hazardous process as he grew unsteady on his pins and his daughters-in-law begged him to desist. His stories, many beginning ‘In my boyhood…’, were gently polished through regular repetition. All in all, it was a triumph for him to celebrate his 99th birthday in a circle of family and friends, just over a week before he died.

William Earp