The Revd Allan Cox: 1934-2019
'A modest man – a man of faith, warmth, decency, determination and humanity - who made a far from modest impact on us all'
Allan Cox, former minister of Bellevue Baptist Church, Southend and of Easthampstead Baptist Church, Bracknell, and co-founder of Fair Havens Hospice and Tools with a Mission, has died at the age of 84.
Allan was born in 1934 in south London, to Stanley, a First World War veteran and painter-decorator, and Hilda, a former shop assistant. He was the third of five children. The family lived in a three-bedroom new-build house in Mitcham - two parents and five children upstairs, and one set of grandparents downstairs in the living room.
His childhood was dominated by the Second World War, which broke out in the year he started infant school. He had vivid and traumatic memories of the Blitz, of lessons held in the school air-raid shelters, and of being evacuated with his brother to Berkshire for several months. Brighter memories from those days were his grandfather teaching him how to garden and his wearing of a 'Dig for Victory' badge with great pride.
Soon after the end of the war, and just before the launch of the life-saving NHS, the family were devastated by the death of Allan's older sister, Rhoda, from TB at the age of just 18. Her death was rarely discussed at his home and the weight of the painful silence surrounding that loss had a life-long impact on him.
Allan left school at 15 in 1949. A week or so later, he started full-time work as an apprentice joiner at a local carpentry firm, Ebdons, where initially he was only trusted to stir the glue. A shy teenager, he was trained, nurtured and teased by this community of skilled men. He remembered those days as happy ones, even being dispatched to collect "a tin of striped paint". His love of wood, both in the trees of the countryside and as objects honed in the carpenter's workshop, was also life-long.
The shy teenager was a talented sportsman, playing for local football and cricket teams. He was also a member of the local Boys' Brigade run by the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church. Pollards Hill would play a pivotal role in his life. When he attended the church's recent centenary event, he was invited to testify to his experiences there. If he wasn't teetotal, he might - with justification - have said, 'Hold my beer'. His message was simple and powerful and he knocked it out of the park. For him, Pollards meant three things: Conversion, Marriage, Ordination. It was the place that set his course in life. Here, another skilled man, the Revd Des Jackson, would encourage him in his faith. Here, he would get to know, and later marry, a feisty young woman called Maureen. Here, he would - in time - return to be ordained.
Allan felt called to the ministry in the early 1950s but he had few school qualifications and very little money. He lacked any grounding in the Latin or Greek then required by theological colleges. No matter. He, Maureen and Des put their heads together, prayed together and made it happen. He enrolled in evening classes to master the O-levels he had missed at school and began to teach himself Old Testament Greek. He gained a grant from Surrey County Council and applied to Rawdon, the distant and rather lofty Baptist College near Leeds. He survived an intimidating interview (the first interview of his life) and - after an initial rejection - eventually gained a conditional offer. Along the way, he underwent major surgery resulting in the removal of a large part of his left lung. He was sent to the Scilly Isles to convalesce and, true to form, put the time to good use, pacing the coastal paths reciting Greek verbs.
In 1956 Allan began to study for the ministry at Rawdon. He spent four happy, challenging, freezing-cold years there, under the supervision of mentors the Revd J.O. Barratt and the Revd David Russell. Sundays were spent on the west Yorkshire preaching circuit with the modest fees earned helping him to eke out his modest student grant. By this time, he and Maureen - then training to be a nurse in the East End - were engaged but rarely saw each other due to lack of both money and time to make the 10 hour round-trip from London to Leeds. Maureen once made the journey on the back of a friend's motorbike - but said once was enough! Their courtship might well stand as an episode of Call the Midwife.
On leaving Rawdon in 1960, Allan married Maureen at Pollards Hill and accepted an invitation from the Baptist Union to lead a new church in the new town of Bracknell in Berkshire. By 'lead', they meant, 'build': the couple began with a bare patch of ground. Allan remembered the reaction of a Rawdon friend, Reg Cook, to the news that he was going to take this on: ''We're all fools for Christ, but some of us are bigger fools than others." The creation and curation of what became Easthampstead Baptist Church was an inspiring time for the young couple. The founding congregation of 20 that first met in a converted builders' hut grew to be 200 strong. Lasting friendships were formed across the new town's social groups and, in many cases, across lifetimes.
After a decade at Easthampstead, including the arrival of three daughters, Allan's superintendents asked him if he would consider moving to a new position in Southend. He wryly recalled that he'd previously asked them if they could offer him a church in the west country, closer to his beloved Scilly Isles, and that, instead, they'd sent him as far east as they possibly could. The family duly relocated, not without some regret, and expanded to include Allan's mother-in-law who moved in to look after domestic life while Maureen returned to work as a health visitor and to study for her public health diploma.
Allan became the minister of Belle Vue Baptist church in 1971 and would stay there until his retirement in 1999. He renewed and enlivened an established congregation, and embarked on many new projects. He connected with Operation Agri, a hands-on agricultural development project linked to the Baptist Missionary Society, and loved working with wonderful men like Jack Norwood to design and dispatch egg incubators and self-composting toilets to what was then Zaire. He co-founded what would become Tools with a Mission (TWAM) - a scheme sending reconditioned tools to rural Africa that started life in the backrooms of Belle Vue and nearby Friendship House, run by local retired men and supported by the then Manpower Services Commission. Allan was famously reluctant to travel abroad (and never owned a passport) but always brought a firmly international outlook to his ministry and personal politics. Closer to home, he was a co-founder of, and first chaplain to, Fair Havens Hospice - one of the first hospices to be set up in the southeast, opened in 1983.
Alongside all this, he had an open-door approach to his pastoral work. Countless people - within the church and outside - sought and valued his quiet conversation and counsel. He was a familiar figure cycling around Southend, fuelled by countless cups of tea, to visit people in their homes, hospital or hospice. His sermons were closely prepared, usually on his trusted typewriter. He was possibly the last man in Essex to insist on a steady supply of typewriter ribbon and proper ink for his fountain pen.
Four Belle Vue 'graduates' - of Maureen's youth group and Allan's ministry - went on to be ordained: Nick Fawcett, Jon Stannard, Daniel Strange and Peter Sims.
In their retirement, Allan and Maureen moved to Rayleigh on the outskirts of Southend. Life remained busy. Allan maintained his work with TWAM, became a volunteer gardener at Hyde Hall, a fine Royal Horticultural Society garden, and also joined a local woodcarving group. He served as a lay preacher for many local circuits and, together with Maureen, became an active member of Eastwood Baptist Church, running Bible classes and outreach work. They continued - for as long as they were able - to enjoy walking holidays, boat trips and bird watching and spending time with their daughters and grandchildren.
After Maureen died in 2016, Allan continued with all these pursuits for as long as he was able. He learned to cook a casserole and mastered the art of texting. Life began to slow down, however, when his teenage lung problems caught up with him and were complicated by a slowly failing heart. In the summer of 2018, Allan suffered a severe bout of pneumonia and his health never really recovered. He was discharged from hospital in time to celebrate his eighty-fourth birthday and was able, in turn, to see his great-grandson, enjoy his first.
Allan died on 20 February 2019 in Fair Havens Hospice, having received outstanding care from their community team in the preceding weeks. He is survived by his sister, Marian, three daughters, Alison, Gillian and Pamela, six grandchildren, Laura, Chris, Mike, Dan, Tess and Patrick, and one great-grandson, Tristan. His legacies are legion. Allan was a modest man - a man of faith, warmth, decency, determination and humanity - who made a far from modest impact on us all.
Photo | Allan at his ordination at Belle Vue Baptist Church, 1971