THE DEATH of Joan Buckingham, at the tragically early age of 52, is a grievous loss not only to the Church in Wales, but to the civic and academic life of Cardiff.
She was Warden for nearly 20 years of Aberdare Hall, a women’s hall of residence in the university. The threats to this distinguished institution, consistently over-subscribed as it is, from an ‘80s alliance of political correctness and money-driven politicization took all Joan’s combined steel, charm and devotion to duty to overcome.
These same qualities were of even greater value to the Church in Wales in the ‘90s, when someone who could be sincerely charming to bishops and other influential persons was needed for the defence of Catholic Faith and Order.
After the failure in the Governing Body of the 1994 legislation to have women ordained as priests, Credo Cymru ‘94 ( as it had been) became Credo Cymru (pure and simple). Father (now Bishop) David Thomas wished to step down from the chairmanship, and Joan was the obvious person to take over.
During the next two years she was tireless in her efforts to ensure, with polite but unrelenting insistence, that our position was acknowledged in high places. Her faith, her optimism and her love for the Church not only gave her enormous energy in pursuit of our cause, but inspired hundreds of the faithful across the Province. What was so valuable in her witness was that it gave a voice to the laity who would otherwise have been taken for granted or written off as mere conservatives who would eventually “come round”. She preached and she exemplified the dignity of the lay vocation, so shamefully devalued in the course of this debate.
By September last year she had completed a successful course of chemotherapy and should have had an operation immediately. She asked for a postponement until after the Governing Body meeting in the middle of the month. Who can tell what effect the delay may have had on her chances of full recovery? We can be sure, however, that all in Wales who value Scriptural and Catholic Orthodoxy owe her an incalculable debt, as her influence and her very presence at that meeting gave such encouragement to our cause.
Joan’s involvement in ecclesiastical politics in the last few years of her life – and her contribution over a much longer period to various diocesan bodies – should not distract us from seeing a woman of the world in the best sense: a fully engaged lay Christian. She was a Justice of the Peace, a member of numerous committees in town and university, including the civic group, Cardiff 2000. She was to have been invested as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan. But perhaps her Christian friends will think of her first as the elegant and sensitive woman who longed for silence and yet enjoyed convivial company; the convert from non-conformity who continued respect for the tradition in which she was brought up with a love of Catholic Sacraments and Order; the oblate of Ty Mawr Convent who was, at the same time, through force of circumstance and in spite of herself, an astute ecclesiastical politician.
She once said she was not afraid to die, implying she was afraid of becoming a dependent invalid for however short a time. God heard her prayer and took her early. We can only be thankful in our grief and pray that we will be as faithful, as generous and as courageous as she.
Martin Williams is Archdeacon of Margam