[Frances] Whitehead was fast and focused: her typing speed perhaps 80-90 words a minute on a manual typewriter. Phone calls were always brief, some would say terse. Yet those who knew her well encountered warmth and laughter. She brought a genuine care for people expressed through a huge correspondence, some 30 personal letters a day, over her own name or John Stott’s. A seminary library in San Salvador was named after her in 2006 to mark 50 years of service.
[John] Stott and Whitehead ran global endeavours on a shoestring, with help only from a study assistant. Using Charles Simeon’s phrase, Stott named the three “the happy triumvirate”.
In 2001, Archbishop George Carey conferred on Whitehead a Lambeth MA, for which she donned the Oxford gown and red silk. When news of this honour was announced in All Souls, it was greeted with a standing ovation.
Frances Whitehead was born in 1925 in Bovey Tracey, in Devon, the second child of Captain Claude Whitehead, and his wife, Evelyn Eastley. Her older sister, Pamela, died of leukaemia, aged eight. She would go on to Malvern Girls’ College, where she was head girl of Summerside House.
During the war she worked as a mathematician at the Radar Research and Development Establishment (RRDE) in Malvern and then, from 1951, she worked at the BBC, under the producer Mary Treadgold. She was a good horsewoman, and enjoyed the BBC riding club, hiring horses in Victoria, and riding up to the barracks of the Household Cavalry in Knightsbridge.
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