Mike Smith
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17 February, 2014

The Revd Canon J P Thornton-Duesbery

Canon Julian Thonton-Duesbery
Canon Julian Thonton-Duesbery
The Revd Canon J P Thornton-Duesbery, Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, from 1955 to 1968, died on April 1 at the age of 82.

Julian Percy Thornton-Duesbery was born on September 7, 1902, the son of the former Bishop of Sodor and Man, and educated at Rossall and Balliol College, Oxford. He had a brilliant career, obtaining firsts in Classical Moderations, Greats and Theology.

From Balliol he went to Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, in 1925 and came under one of the great formative influences of his life, that of the Principal, J F Graham-Brown, afterwards Bishop of Jerusalem. He was ordained to the staff in 1926 and then became Fellow and Chaplain of Corpus Christi College while remaining Vice-Principal of Wycliffe. Already as an undergraduate he had been greatly influenced by the Oxford Group movement, or Moral Re-Armament, and was the first senior member of the University to identify himself with it.

In 1933, at the invitation of Bishop Graham-Brown, he became Headmaster of St George’s, Jerusalem, and brought the school through the Jewish-Arab troubles of the next few years. In 1939 he was appointed Master of St Peter’s Hall, but the Second World War delayed his homecoming until 1940 when he found the Hall homeless, its buildings occupied by Westfield College, London, and its members steadily diminishing. He carried the Hall through this difficult period with quiet confidence.

In 1944 he became Principal of Wycliffe Hall, having been acting Principal for a year. His continued support for the Oxford Group was not always understood even by his best friends, and though he never allowed his deep attachment to it to weaken his other loyalties, it probably deterred many Oxford men from entering Wycliffe.

In 1955 he returned to the Mastership of St Peter’s Hall. This gave him  scope for his gifts as a teacher (he understood the task of teaching New Testament Greek) and as a friend and advisor to a varied body of men. Also his efficiency in college business and tact in negotiations with the trustees of the original foundation smoothed the way to full collegiate status in 1962.

Thorton-Duesbery relinquished the Mastership in 1968. Having decided to retire to Liverpool, a diocese with which St Peter’s had many connections, he was appointed Canon Theologian of the Cathedral. Henceforth his interests were assistance in the cathedral and parishes, especially in Allerton, in which he lived; the presidency of St Lawrence College, Ramsgate; and continuing his work for Moral Re-Armament, which involved much travelling, as far afield as India. He became Canon Emeritus of the Cathedral from 1977.

Thorton-Duesbery never married, but was a man of many friendships and of infinite patience as a listener. He will be remembered not primarily for his great intellectual gifts, but as a person of deep Christina conviction.

First published in The Times, 8 April 1985.

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