Lady Rosalind Runcie, the widow of Lord Robert Runcie the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury died on Thursday. She was a remarkable woman who always struggled with her role as a clergy spouse and yet is said to have made an “important and vital contribution” to the life of the Church of England
Lady Runcie’s obituary in the Telegraph is notable for its honesty and the delightful picture of the couple.
“She confessed that she was “not terribly religious”, famously remarking that “too much religion makes me go pop!” Sermons “switched her off”; she could not bear the sound of church bells; and she had little time for “running round the parish dispensing calves-foot jelly, whatever that is”.
With a keen dislike for phoniness and pretence, Rosalind Runcie particularly dreaded having to accompany her husband to formal occasions, complaining that “lots of times they do not really want me there. I’m only there as a decoration. I resent having to go there, smiling.” She rarely accompanied Runcie on his weekend visits to the Old Palace in Canterbury, and travelled with him overseas only when she herself had been invited to perform as a concert pianist.
As their son James recalled: “When she met my father she was larky, jolly and vibrant, like a naughty girl in the sixth form. She didn’t have much time for saying the right thing, wearing the right thing and curtsying. She was keen to have her own private life and friends, where she could be herself. So there was a lot of physical separation.”
Her sense of humour was always irreverent. In the 1970s, when Runcie was Bishop of St Albans and the homosexual Labour MP Tom Driberg was employed by Private Eye as a compiler of obscene crosswords, it was noted that on one occasion the prize was won by a Mrs Rosalind Runcie of St Albans.”
Clearly this was not the sort of clergy spouse who can be impersonated by a body double sitting pleasantly in the front pew.