Tributes to former Norwich Bishop's chaplain

TomHeffer2012: Heffer died on Monday evening (April 23) following a minor car accident.

Tom held the posts for three years after serving his title in Sprowston. Since leaving the Diocese of Norwich in 2001, Tom has served with the Mission to Seafarers and became Secretary General in 2009.

On April 17, Tom lost consciousness whilst driving to work and this led to a subsequent minor collision. His heart was restarted at the scene by emergency service personnel and he was taken to a North London hospital where he remained, unconscious, in the Intensive Treatment Unit. Tom passed away with his family by his side aged just 43. He leaves a widow, Roz and a daughter, Abi

Bishop Graham paid tribute saying: “Tom was my first chaplain here, happily inherited from my predecessor.  Although we only worked together for a year before he went to the Mission to Seafarers I got to know him well and have remained in touch.  He had a gift for friendship and was the sort of priest whom people instinctively loved.  

“His zest for life, love for God and his family, and his service to the seafaring community were all evident when you met Tom.  His early death is a huge loss not only to Roz, his widow, and Abi, their daughter, but to all who knew him.

“Tom was still a regular visitor to the Diocese both when representing Mission to Seafarers and visiting many friends from his years in Norwich. Those who remember Tom speak warmly of his humour and love of people.”

Canon Michael Stagg, who worked closely with Tom in Sprowston when Michael was vicar and Tom his curate, writes a personal tribute:

Tom Heffer had a great affection for Norfolk and that will be reciprocated by many who remember him here. His experiences prepared Tom for his role he took on when he left us to become Pastoral Chaplain to the staff of the worldwide Mission to Seafarers.

So respected and valued was Tom in this post that in spite of his relatively young age his appointment as General Secretary of the Mission was greeted with unanimous delight and approval. The task before him was enormous as there were big issues to be dealt with relating to staffing, budgets, necessary closures of posts in long established ports while planning the opening of new ventures requiring negotiations with heads of local churches, port officials and representatives of the maritime industry – all in a time of recession. Tom dealt with this by drawing up an impressive five-year plan called Towards the Next Horizon.

I saw him chairing two international conferences where this was the key item on the Agenda and could not fail to notice how mature and skilled he had become at handling not only difficult decisions and debates but also strong individuals including overseas bishops. And yet all the time gaining everyone’s respect by his good humour and being totally on top of whatever was the topic under consideration from piracy and hostage taking on the high seas to what sort of phone cards should be given to seafarers to keep them in touch with their families.

He also invited me to take several retreats for him and his two senior colleagues where his deep commitment to his leadership of a major Church Missionary Society rather than simply a maritime social agency was obvious. Tom died with the Prayer Rope I had given him in his pocket. It had travelled with him. Unusually though for a retreat, at least the ones I normally have taken, the days of those with Tom and his colleagues ended in typically hilarious meals in a pub! On one occasion another party present commented to us with great surprise as they left: ‘We understand you are all clergy!’ Obviously their views of such had dramatically changed. Tom’s fun was infectious.

I personally have a lot to thank God for in his gift of Tom – may God’s purpose in creating and redeeming him now be brought to perfection. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Article extracts from:  www.norwich.anglican.org/article/1271

Published: 28/04/2012