15th March 2023

Some people are difficult to sum up. The Welshman Gwynne Henton Davies was Principal of Regent’s Park College, Oxford, in the 1960s. Many of us who were students there found ‘Henton’ by turns a brilliant lecturer on the Old Testament, an exasperatingly unpredictable manager of college life, a captivatingly eloquent (or unintentionally amusing) preacher for any occasion (even the blessing of a new kitchen and toilet at the church where I was student minister); and an audacious and persistent promoter of his own ideas (some bizarre in the extreme) for the college and indeed the denomination. Anecdotes about him abounded. But added to it all was, on occasion, an extraordinary personal kindness, as Margaret and I can testify. In the summer of 1967, just after I had left college and we were looking forward to our wedding and first pastorate, Margaret was badly injured in a car crash, landing in hospital with a broken neck. What’s more, next day I was summoned back to Oxford for an oral exam in follow-up to my finals. The red-robed professors received me very kindly and with unexpected gentleness: Henton, away from Oxford, had phoned to tell them of my likely emotional state. No, it didn’t enable me to lift my performance up a grade, but I’ve never forgotten that spontaneous kindness, and it’s why I’ve always demurred at the simple dismissals of Henton as ‘impossible’. If it takes all sorts to make a world, sometimes it seems that God takes all sorts of traits to create a single personality. Life otherwise would be a lot duller, with a lot less grace and creativity.

Keith Clements