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Sir Henry Frederick Ross Catherwood: A Tribute

Sir Henry Frederick Ross Catherwood was born January 30th 1925 to Harold Matthew Stuart Catherwood and Jean Eleanor Maud (nee Agnew). He died November 30 2014. Here, Elaine Storkey writes about the life of a remarkable man of God.

Fred Catherwood was born in 1925 in Castledawson, in Northern Ireland, mid-way between Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. Through his Ulster Protestant family he was brought into early contact with vibrant Christianity and came to personal faith as a boy. He was sent to England to Shrewsbury School and went on to Clare College, Cambridge to study history and law. There he became very involved with the CICCU and drawn into an evangelical engagement with prospective decision-makers that was to last through the whole of his life. He moved to London, became articled at Price Waterhouse and Co. and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1951.

It was during his time in London that he became a regular attender at Westminster Chapel in London, and absorbed the inspiring preaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, who ministered there for nearly 30 years. A former member of the Royal College of Physicians, this Welsh doctor, turned expository preacher, was probably the key figure in the Reformed wing of evangelicalism in the 20th century. His widely influential Bible studies greatly encouraged Catherwood’s own strong biblical faith. On one occasion, Fred was particularly concerned to seek ‘the Doctor’ out, after one of his powerful sermons. Although professionally at ease in almost all circumstances, he later recalled his nervousness as he approached the minister. His enquiry was not a theological one. It was to ask Martyn Lloyd Jones if he could marry his elder daughter, Elizabeth. By all accounts, the Doctor was delighted with the request, and in February 1954 the couple were wed. It was to be a union of great blessing, and one for which Fred remained profoundly grateful. It was evident to everyone throughout the next 60 years that Elizabeth was indeed the love of his life. Three children were born into the family in the fifties and sixties: Christopher on March 1 1955, followed by Bethan, named after her grandmother, and Jonathan.

During this productive family time, Fred held a number of senior positions in industry, including those of Chief Executive of Richard Costain Ltd and Managing Director of British Aluminium Co Ltd (1955-60). He was also a Member of the Northern Ireland Development Council (1963-64). His proficiency and wisdom took him into the Department of Economic Affairs where he became Chief Industrial Adviser (1964-66) and followed this swiftly as Director General of the National Economic Development Council (1966-71). He was also active in the British Export Council (1965-71). He became known for his views on responsible management, advocating the need for managers to notice, listen, respect and build up trust with workers, rather than try to revoke the legal protection of employees. This was so clearly expressed in his paper in ‘Industry and Society’ that Christopher Fildes wrote in ‘City Diary’ (1968) that if Catherwood was ever offered a peerage, the motto on the Catherwood arms would read ‘Management must manage.’

The integration of Fred Catherwood’s Christian faith with his economic and political work was communicated very publicly in two books written during this period: The Christian in Industrial Society, (1964) where he grounds his views on liberty and freedom at work in biblical principles, and The Christian Citizen (1969). He shows himself to be a passionate supporter of democracy. Whilst not blind to its limitations, or to the vulnerability of a minority within it, he sees democracy as ‘…the only form of government which a Christian can accept as his ideal…’ For him, democracy is the fruit of a seed planted in Reformation thinking.

Catherwood was knighted in 1971, and for the next few years took on key senior management and public roles. He served as Managing Director and Chief Executive of John Laing & Son Ltd (1972-74), was Chairman of the Institute of Management from 1972-76, and Chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board (1975-79). A broadcaster himself, he was a member of the Central Religious Advisory Board to the BBC and IBA from 1975 to 1979.

In 1979, he was elected as a member of the European Parliament for Cambridgeshire and North Bedfordshire and, with accustomed energy, was plunged into a groundswell of activity over the next fifteen years. Almost immediately, he took the Chair of the Committee on External Economic Relations (1979-84) which considered issues such as the relationship with Gulf States, the limitation of imports of Japanese cars, reduction of farm subsidies, and the removal of internal trade barriers. From 1983 to 1989 and 1993 to 1994 he was a member of the Joint Delegation between the European Parliament and the United States House of Representatives. As everywhere, his commitment in Parliament was total and unstinting. He served on the Delegation for relations with the Gulf States, Committee on Budgets, Committee on Youth Culture, Education, Media and Sport, Committee on Institutional Affairs, Economic and Monetary Affairs and Industrial Policy, Delegation for relations with Hungary, and Canada, and Committee on Social Affairs, Employment and the Working Environment. From 1989 to 1992 he was Vice-President of the European Parliament, and concluded his parliamentary responsibilities as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security. He was a passionate advocate for the European Community, yet unafraid to share his insights on the political battles around Europe and in the Conservative Party. In 1980, in relation to the Common Agricultural Policy, he wrote in the Christian journal Third Way that the vote of the British delegates would be decisive, concluding: ‘This is the very last moment to be faint-hearted, and to abdicate our responsibilities in the European Community.’ It is a message which the Conservative Party might need today.

Always a communicator, Fred was a prolific writer and broadcaster, both on detailed specialist areas and the bigger picture. Alongside his many broadcasts and discussions on the BBC and his writings in newspapers and journals, he was a faithful contributor to Christian journals, especially Evangelicals Now and Third Way. For him communication was part of education – educating the electorate about the message of the Gospel and its importance in shaping the values and vision for public policy – educating the church about the need to avoid pietist withdrawal and be better citizens. His message to a secular culture was challenging. Greed, he wrote, is ‘the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can however we can and then hold on to it hard.’ 1 His message to Christians was similarly uncompromising:

Christians must be part of the counter-culture, resistant to the TV ads and to the skewed priorities of our consumer culture. Giving is the antidote to selfishness, but is also a command for Christians. If we take that command seriously, maybe the world will take us seriously.

Careful academic work and research was clearly important to Fred. He once wrote in New Scientist (1974), ‘We cannot base our society on capital….We cannot base it on labour….This small island …can only base its standard of living on knowledge.’ His vision was for a ‘knowledge think tank’ comprising skilled and thoughtful professionals — bodies representing doctors, dentists, accountants and surveyors, together with lawyers, engineers and many others — who would see issues of ecology, the dehumanization of work, energy resources, finance all woven into the national agenda. Had such a group become a well-resourced and permanent part of British economic and political thinking we might have a different society now. His own ideas went into his many books, including: Britain with the Brakes Off (1966); A Better Way (1976); First Things First (1979); God’s Time God’s Money (1987); Pro Europe? (1991); David: Poet, Warrior, King (1993); At the Cutting Edge (memoirs, 1995); Jobs & Justice, Homes & Hope (1997); It Can be Done (2000) and The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics (2002). It is not surprising that universities acknowledged his public contributions, with honorary degrees from the University of Aston, Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Surrey. His alma mater, Clare College, elected him as an Honorary Fellow in 1992.

People so involved in political and public life find little time to give to other pursuits. Not so with Sir Fred. His energy was also committed to evangelical institutions and Christian outreach. He served as Vice-President, then President (1976 and 1977) of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). He was President of the Evangelical Alliance from 1992 to 2001, and President of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) between 1995 and 2003, remaining as Vice-President of both after his term ended. When I was Director of the London Institute, I was surprised to receive a request from Fred. He had come in his capacity as President, to ask if I might be willing to consider an invitation to head up the Evangelical Alliance. I was taken aback, knowing that his denomination and church affiliates felt it reprehensible for a woman even to preach! It showed me, once again, that whilst fully endorsing Reformed doctrine, Fred was never ‘churchy’ or partisan and had few hang-ups about gender. I felt very honoured by the request, though I knew it was not for me.

One of his hardest tasks as President of the Evangelical Alliance was to deal with the crisis surrounding the Revd Roy Clements, a much-respected EA Council member, international speaker and minister of Eden Church in Cambridge, attended by the Catherwoods. The announcement that Roy had left his marriage for a relationship with a male friend came as a shock to all who knew him. Fred and the Council Chair, Robert Amess had clearly spent hours, even weeks, searching how to resolve the situation. The issue was handled with compassion, sorrow and minimum publicity, urging space and prayer, for both Roy and his distressed family.

His own marriage and family life was of crucial importance to Fred. Around 1970, the family took part in the TV programme ‘Ask the Family’ largely thanks to the enthusiasm of Bethan, then aged 11. They got to the final, but lost to the Carvel family, with whom they characteristically became friends. In the years since then, sons and daughter have married and followed their own vocations. Christopher, himself a successful author and lecturer lives mainly in Cambridge with his wife, Paulette, whilst journeying frequently to work in the USA. Bethan married Richard Marshall, gave birth to Myfanwy and Angharad and is Senior Lecturer in Education and English at Kings College London. Jonathan, also married with children, went on to run the MLJ Trust – committed to preserving the sermons and other output of his grandfather, Martyn Lloyd Jones.

The Catherwood home was also important for others. Years ago, Jack Ashley MP spoke publicly of their deep understanding after he lost his hearing through complications of a hospital operation. Struggling with his loss, he arrived to find his hosts ready with pens and a pile of paper to engage in an energetic conversation by writing down what they wanted to say. Their much-loved house in Balsham, Cambridgeshire became a place of hospitality and welcome for more than forty years. My husband, then a young economist, was first invited to an evening meal in the early 1970s and was delighted to find that Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones was also in residence. He remembers the evening as a relaxing one, full of good-natured humour and stimulating conversation. That same hospitality was to be experienced by hundreds of others in the years to follow.

Fred’s final years were a struggle with debilitating illness. He and Elizabeth moved into Cambridge and as his memory declined, and dementia took its grip, he spent less time in public. But as long as Elizabeth was with him, Fred remained visibly content and at peace. Elizabeth herself continued as his constant, daily companion, pouring love and reassurance into his life until the end. He died peacefully, with Elizabeth at his bedside, along with Christopher and Paulette and Jonathan’s son, Jamie.

Sir Fred Catherwood’s was a life well-loved and a life well-lived. He epitomised the best of the Protestant work ethic and belonged to that generation of Christians who saw no distinction between a call to responsible citizenship and a call to the Kingdom of God. It seems fitting to leave you with his own words.

The last great commandment of Christ was that it is a Christian’s duty to preach the gospel of salvation, the offer of God’s forgiveness for our rebellion. Eternal salvation matters more than anything in this life. But the society in which we live does not believe in sin, so it sees no need for salvation. It sees the church as, at best, a cosy club of like-minded people and, at worst, as a dangerous sect. Words alone are not enough.

Our teaching has to follow that of Christ and the Apostles, who taught that ‘faith without works is dead’. We have to show our faith by our works; we have to be concerned, as Christ was and the prophets before him, for the injustices and injuries of this world and do our best to put them right and to meet the pressing needs of the poor, disabled, deprived and the very young and very old, all who cannot help themselves.

So I do not believe that we will win this public argument unless words are backed by deeds and especially by obedience to the second great commandment, to love our neighbours as ourselves. Christ taught the people, but he also healed and fed them. Because he showed his love by his care for the needs which they felt most acutely, many were prepared to believe him when he told them of a spiritual need which they did not yet recognise and when, finally, he gave his life, thousands were converted. Christians have to follow Christ’s example.

Elaine Storkey is a writer and broadcaster, President of Tearfund, Vice-President of Gloucester University, Ambassador for Restored, Trustee of the Church of England Newspaper, General Synod member and President of Fulcrum, where this tribute first appeared.

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