Ruth Etchells; Obituaries

Article excerpt

ALEADING North East academic and one of the most influential women in the Church of England, Dr Ruth Etchells, has died aged 81.

Described as "the best female bishop we never had", she was a member of the Crown Appointments Commission from 1987 to 1996, nominating Anglican bishops and archbishops.

Her appointment in 1979 as principal of St John's College at Durham University, which contains within it Cranmer Hall, an Anglican ordination training college, caused controversy, in both the university and the church.

However, Dr Etchells was determined to challenge the preconceptions of the exclusively male, Anglican theological training hierarchy.

The college required modernisation both in terms of academic rigour and physical development and she transformed St John's into a place of creative exchange.

Born in London, she was adopted by a Congregational minister, Walter Etchells, and his wife Ada, who took her to live in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Her vitality and talent were evident at Merchant Taylors' School for Girls, Liverpool, and in her own undergraduate and postgraduate work at Liverpool University, where she read English.

Her first post was as head of English at Aigburth Vale high school, where she put on ambitious plays and organised a school trip to Oberammergau, the Bavarian town famous for its Passion play. Her search for a way to provide for her parents after her father suffered a stroke took her to Chester College (now university) as a lecturer in English in 1963, and later, after his death, to Durham University in 1968. …