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Death of Richard Wood, former Anglican suffragan bishop of Namibia

15 October 2008

Richard Wood, former Anglican bishop-suffragan of Namibia, died on 9 October 2008 at his home at Itchen Abbas, Hampshire, England.

Richard was ordained as an Anglican priest at Winchester Cathedral, and served for several years in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

On the death of his wife he was interested in the possibility of some form of monastic life, and on the suggestion of the Bishop of Grahamstown wrote to the Anglican Bishop of Damaraland, Colin Winter, to ask if he could serve ion the desert diocese in Namibia, which he subsequently did.

I was then living in Namibia, but at the time Richard arrived was on a holiday travelling round South Africa with friends David de Beer and Hiskia Uanivi. We stopped at Grahamstown, and visited the Anglican Club at Rhodes University where we met Richard’s daughter Irene, then a student. “He’s a super guy”, she told us, and so it proved when we got back to Namibia and met him for the first time.

He was based at Keetmanshoop, which had not had a resident Anglican  priest for many years, and travelled about in a secondhand Volkswagen Kombi he had bought. When he visited Windhoek he usually stayed with us in our commune, the Community of St Simon the Zealot, and amazed us with his ability to concoct delicious salads out of the most unlikely-seeming ingredients.

After a couple of years of doing this he decided to go to the UK to look at various Anglican religious communities there to get ideas for forming such a community in Namibia. On the same plane with him was Cathy Roark, a young American who had spent a year in the diocese as a youth worker. She accompanied him on a visit to one religious community, and they decided to get married. Richard wrote to Bishop Winter with the bad news that he would not be establishing a celibate religious community in Namibia, but with the good news that he had found one other person to take life vows with him.

Soon after that Bishop Winter was deported from Namibia. Richard and Cathy Wood returned to Namibia, and when the Anglican diocese decided that it did not want Bishop Winter to resign, but to continue as bishop-in-exile, Richard Wood was elected as suffragan bishop, and served there until he himself was deported by the South African government, which then controlled Namibia, a couple of years later.

After being deported Richard and Cathy, and their daughters Naomi and Rachel, lived in England, spending several years at Hull, and then retired to Itchen Abbas in Hampshire. In 2005 we had the opportunity of travelling to the UK on holiday, the first time I had been there for nearly 40 years, and we drove straight from London airport to Itchen Abbas to see Richard and Cathy, and had the bonus of seeing their daughter Rachel, with her husband and baby son (who was about the same age she had been when we had last seen her).

Richard Wood (right) with daughter Rachel and grandson Antoine d'Arcy

Richard Wood (right) with daughter Rachel and grandson Antoine d

In his latter years Richard became somewhat disillusioned with and estranged from the institutional church, and especially with its failure to denounce Tony Blair’s warmongering.

This is a personal memoir; a proper obituary is available at The Namibian.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 October 2008 2:15 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for sharing these memories. I am inspired by what I’ve read. I never met Bp Wood, although I had heard about him from students at Rhodes when I was there in 1990’s.

    I am always fascinated by the twists and turns that the lives of clergy take through the decades. It makes me wonder where I shall end up in years to come!

    Thanks again, this was an inspiration.

    Dion

  2. Naomi Wood permalink
    15 October 2008 5:58 pm

    Dear Steve,

    I am Richards daughter. I read your article but could not find your name. Except ‘Steve’ from the person who commented on your article called Dion. Would you mind emailing me to say who you are. I liked your article.

    Look forward to hearing from you.I am sure you have many stories and connections with my family.

    Naomi

    • Ciaran permalink
      31 October 2012 12:43 am

      Hi Wood

      I met a priest on a train today who said he knew of your Dad. Sorry to hear that he died. Hope that you are doing well and that everything worked out great for you.

      Ciaran

  3. Gus Gosling permalink
    23 October 2008 11:17 am

    Dear Steve,

    Obituaries in The Telegraph and Guardian have now appeared:

    Telegraph

    Guardian

  4. Gus Gosling permalink
    24 October 2008 11:10 am

    WordPress seems have to have gobbled my attempts at HTML tagging. Here are those links again:

    The Guardian:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/21/religion-southafrica

    The Telegraph:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/3231644/The-Right-Reverend-Richard-Wood.html

  5. 25 October 2008 6:51 am

    Thanks for the links Gus.

    Do you know if there was an obit in the Sunday Times? The editor, John Witherow, was with us in Namibia, and I wonder if he attended the funeral.

  6. Gus Gosling permalink
    25 October 2008 7:26 am

    Dear Steve,

    No, apparently not yet. The Times though often takes an age to prepare an obituary. Randolph Vigne has however penned an obituary for The Independent:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/the-right-rev-richard-wood-anglican-bishop-in-namibia-expelled-for-his-opposition-to-apartheid-966950.html

  7. Gus Gosling permalink
    12 December 2008 8:24 am

    Dear Steve,

    A short obituary from the Yorkshire Post:

    http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/obituaries/Richard-Wood.4674740.jp

    Gus

  8. Veronica T Hiyalwa permalink
    8 March 2011 6:31 pm

    Dear Steve,
    Thank you for the story of Bishop Richard Wood. I am one of the ghostly bubble – my Odibo students, that Antoinette wrote about. I had no idea that Bishop Wood had died – so nearby me. I knew both of them very well. Cathy wood used to teach us country songs and when Richard told me he was going to marry Cathy, I was happy for him because I knew she was going to make him happy. After I had left Namibia for exile, I was honoured to meet the Bishop again. He came to Lusaka sometime in the 70s to visit SWAPO and I was called from the frontline to meet him and that was the last time I saw of him. I have beautiful memories of him and my sympathy goes to Cathy and their children.

    • 10 March 2011 5:36 am

      Veronica, Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Where were you when Cathy taught you country songs?

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