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The Rev Chad Varah

The Rev Chad Varah, founder of the telephone counselling service The Samaritans in 1953, died on 8 November 2007 aged 95.

Unsurprisingly, many of the newspapers focused on his work in providing help to the depressed, anxious and suicidal. Both the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian cite as the inspiration for his work as being the first funeral he presided over as an assistant curate in Lincoln – for a teenaged girl (14 according to the Telegraph, 13 in The Guardian) who killed herself believing that she had VD, when in fact she had just started to menstruate.

The Telegraph looks in greater detail than the other papers at Varah’s work in the Church of England, commenting on his institution of an “Industrial Harvest Festival” during his incumbency as Vicar of Holy Trinity in Blackburn (and also using his title of Prebendary (of St Paul’s Cathedral), a title he personally had dropped the use of). But it also describes him as “A dynamic, combative priest of generous disposition and immense compassion, especially for those with sexual problems”.

The Guardian recounts the story of how, having had the idea of a telephone counselling service, Varah decided his parish was too busy for him to take on the work of setting it up and that the job would be best undertaken by a priest at a city church with no parishioners –

At this point, he set off for a holiday at the English church at Knokke, Flanders, where he received an unexpected telegram from the Grocers’ Livery Company in London, inviting him to apply for the living of St Stephen Walbrook, of which the company was patron – just such a City of London parish.

The Independent takes a rather uncharitable view of his declining years:

…as Chad Varah grew older and his movement grew larger his inevitable loss of personal control caused him to withdraw into a severe paranoia never far below the surface at the best of times, and in his later years the cause of much grief to those who had admired his basic concepts.

The Times comments on his strong if unorthodox views on sex and marriage, quoting his remarks on Pope John Paul II:

[he] referred to the Pope as “a good holy man, but Public Enemy No 3 or 4” for his obduracy on contraception, telling The Sunday Telegraph in 1993: “It was a great mistake to make an ignorant Polish peasant into a Pope.”

(Edward Chad Varah, born 12 November 1911 in Barton-on-Humber, died 8 November 2007 in Basingstoke.)

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