Anthony Kilmister reflects on the life of Margaret Laird and her many years of service to the Church
Margaret Laird, OBE, the former Third Church Estates Commissioner who died in the London Clinic on 11 May, was always a steadfast, gracious and thoroughly orthodox believer in the very best sense of the term. An alliactive woman with a warm smile and sparkling eyes, she never failed to speak her mind and was highly and widely respected. My last person-to-person chat with her was at Pusey House, Oxford last October on the day that its new Principal, Dr George Westhaver, was installed. She mentioned then that she was battling with cancer so her demise has not altogether been a shock, though a matter of great sorrow.
Margaret was born in Truro in January 1933. She loved Cornwall all her life. Her father was works manager of a large furniture firm there. Her father’s family went to the Anglo-Catholic parish church of St Paul’s, Truro, whereas her mother’s family were pillars of the Methodist chapel. As a child Margaret and the rest of the family went to church on Sunday mornings and the chapel in the evening! However, after Margaret was confirmed her mother followed suit and was confirmed too.
Eventually Margaret became Head Girl at school and a keen participant in the debating society. She went on to read Mediaeval History at Westfield College — then one of the three women’s colleges at London University. She had always been fascinated by theology and obtained a bursary from King’s, London to undertake a postgraduate year. She was greatly influenced for the rest of his life by Dr Eric Abbott KCVO (post-war Dean of King’s College London and afterwards Dean of Westminster who died in 1983).
A young classics graduate called John Laird and Margaret caught each other’s eyes. He went on to read theology at Oxford and thereafter to Ripon Hall to get his theology degree. Margaret turned to teaching in Newquay where her father had become ill. John meanwhile was undertaking a curacy at Cheshunt but eventually the way was clear in 1961 for them to marry. In due course two sons were born. Margaret and John went on to celebrate their Golden Wedding and a few more years besides — sharing their time between the St Albans Diocese and beloved Cornwall. Originally Margaret had set her mind on teaching and this she did for quite a while — though public service and service to the Church began to loom large in her busy life.
As far as churchmanship was concerned Margaret could be described as a Prayer Book Catholic of orthodox upbringing. She became a member of the Executive Council of the Anglican Association, a former Deputy Chairman of the English Clergy Association and a stalwart of Forward in Faith. But, more to the point, she became a candidate for the General Synod in 1980 and was elected as a representative of St Albans Diocese.
She remained an elected member for the next ten years when, as a Church Commissioner, membership for further nine years was ex-officio. Why or how one is picked out to become a Commissioner is a mystery to me but, whatever the secret may be, Margaret fitted this demanding role superbly well — indeed like an elegant glove. Apparently in September 1988 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, asked her to Lambeth Palace to discuss this proposal. After having to revise her ideas as a teacher she took on the role. With a flat at Lambeth Palace
during the week, she was always in John’s parish at weekends and for all other special occasions in the parish. Apparently, though she strongly supported John in his role as a Forward in Faith Area Dean, the couple got on well with the Careys. Margaret was a member of the General Synods Standing Committee from 1989 to 1998.
Margaret became the first ever woman Governor of Pusey House in 1993. As Fr William Davage explained: At a difficult time in the life of the House her support for the Chapter was solid and always encouraging. She was firmly committed to its important mission in the University of Oxford and to the wider Church. Her voice was calm, reasoned and firm in conviction. Her concern for clergy and undergraduates was real and unostentatious, kind and interested. She was the most gracious of people:
Margaret not only wrote published books herself but also was a Trustee of Lambeth Palace Library from 1993 to 1999. As time went by, the matter of women’s ordination, with which Margaret strongly disagreed, became a major debate within the Church. She pointed out that the General Synod’s acceptance of women priests and women bishops undermined two main principles of the Church of England.
Writing in NEW DIRECTIONS, she pointed out that No longer can Anglicans claim that they are required to receive ‘nothing as of faith save that which is upheld by Scripture and the tradition of the early Church’ nor that they are held together by a commonly accepted ministry, for no longer do all priests recognise each other’s Orders: She went on to write that all who have a deeply rooted affection for the Church of England will feel a terrible sense of loss as they watch (from within or from without) what they perceive to be the very essence of that church in danger of destruction’. ND