Obituary: Popular Hampstead preacher Rev Derek Spottiswoode dies aged 88
PUBLISHED: 13:00 23 February 2014
The Rev Derek Spottiswoode, long-time resident of Hampstead and former curate of St John-at-Hampstead Parish Church, passed away at the Royal Free Hospital on February 2. He was 88.
Son of David and Theodora, Derek was born in Edinburgh in 1925 and educated at the Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, and then at Rugby School where he famously won the “Crick” cross country race despite getting lost. Towards the end of the Second World War Derek joined the navy and afterwards studied classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
A mistaken suggestion by his tutor that he must leave Cambridge early led to what Derek always described as the turning point in his life. He had been planning to spend another term at Cambridge but he now changed his mind and went to London to become a solicitor. There, at a vicarage tea party, he met the young American opera singer, Estelle Johnson. They married at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1950.
The couple stayed in London and raised four sons: Nigel, Michael, Patrick and Jonathan. Just before Nigel’s birth, and thanks to Estelle’s intervention, Derek was offered his first job, a three month stint assisting the solicitor Francis Mann. (“Of all the learned men I have met, Francis Mann is the most learned” – Lord Denning).
The job became permanent and Francis, a German Jewish émigré, became Derek’s mentor. A decade later, when Francis joined Herbert Smith, he insisted that Derek make the move with him. As partner. Derek’s analytical acumen and his own mentoring skills are credited as having helped lay the foundations for what is now one of the world’s most renowned global firms.
By this time, the early 1960s, the young couple had moved to Hampstead. They worshipped at St Peter’s Church, Belsize Park. Their four boys, 12 years apart, all attended Hampstead’s Hall School. Nigel went on to Highgate; Patrick and Jonathan to University College School; Michael opted for boarding school at Bryanston.
However, despite a happy domestic life and a remarkably successful career, Derek often suffered from bouts of depression and became increasingly estranged from the demands of a top city firm. Considering a dramatic change of career, he arranged a meeting with the Anglican Bishop of Edmonton.
The Bishop called the now middle-aged solicitor’s bluff and suggested he first try a year of parish work in Tottenham. Derek happily took on the challenge. The following year the principal of Salisbury & Wells Theological College was also sceptical, this time of Derek’s glamourous wife. “Are you ready for your husband to have a love affair with God?” he asked.
“Why not?” Estelle replied. “I think it’s very healthy. I’m currently having a love affair with Debussy.”
A few years afterwards Derek was ordained and offered the position of curate at St John-at-Hampstead Parish Church, a job he greatly enjoyed.
He became a popular preacher among the parishioners. It was said that people queued up for him to marry them, to baptise their children and even to take their funerals.
Derek also valued his chaplaincy work ministering to cancer patients at the Marie Curie Hospice. Some Hampstead residents may even remember him for his celebrated turns with the Hampstead Players, notably his roles as Thomas More and Thomas Becket in A Man For All Seasons and Murder in the Cathedral.
Derek is survived by his wife Estelle; his sons Nigel (married to Connie), Patrick and Jonathan and his grandsons Andrew, Simon and Sam. Derek and Estelle’s second son, Michael, died last year at his home in New Mexico.
Derek’s funeral will be held at 2pm on March 1 at St. John-at-Hampstead Parish Church. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the church’s Windows Appeal or to Shelter charity for the homeless.