Dr Frank Elms Robson OBE

April 26, 2020

John Rees writes…

Frank Robson was a founding member of the Society and its distinguished Chairman for a number of years.  Having qualified as a solicitor with a family firm in Northumberland in the early 1950s, he took a break from legal practice to read theology at Selwyn College Cambridge. While there, he met the late Garth Moore QC and Mr Peter Winckworth – the eponymous senior partner of the firm Frank went on to lead himself in the early 1990s, the firm being known by then as Winckworth Sherwood.

Moving to Oxford in 1958, he ran the Diocesan Registry there for the next forty years, and in 1982 he was appointed Provincial Registrar to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile, for many years he had been an elected lay member of the Church of England National Assembly, which morphed in 1970 into the House of Laity of the General Synod. He brought his considerable forensic skills and practical experience to the work of its legislative committees.

For 27 years he was Secretary of the Oxford Diocesan Synod, in recognition of which he was awarded the OBE in 1991. The same year, Archbishop Robert Runcie granted him a Lambeth doctorate in civil law. He wore these honours, as he wore his learning, lightly. What mattered to him was the provision of clear, crisp, and accurate advice given in ways that made immediate sense to the very many clergy, clients and colleagues who received it.

One priest in the diocese of Oxford, now a bishop, says of him: ‘Some of us who’ve been around for 40 years revered Frank for his intelligence and common sense – not only in what the law said but how it should be applied to real people’s lives with compassion and thoroughness – which he never set against one another’.

It was a great sadness that his wife Helen, also a solicitor, whom he met during his early years in the law in Morpeth and married in 1958, died without warning in 2004, only a very short time after he finally retired from active legal practice. In the years since then, his family of five children and their partners, and his five grandchildren, have been close and supportive, as has his wide circle of friends and former colleagues, and he found cheerful companionship with Irene in recent years.

Those who knew him well would say that his manner was always disarming: his kindness and humanity were often disguised beneath a carefully-cultivated façade of curmudgeonliness – a recent correspondent, now a QC, says that he ‘used to find Frank terrifying. It took me years to meet the warm and generous person he tried to hide’.

He died of the Covid-19 virus on 22 April, after a mercifully brief illness. He will be sorely missed by his family and many friends and colleagues. In current circumstances, it may be some time before arrangements can be made for a memorial service, but details will be published in the Newsletter when they become available. Meanwhile, we all thank God for him, for all he has contributed to the life of the Church and to the work of the Society. May he now rest in peace and rise in glory.