Wesley Church

Sir John Marsh

John Marsh

One of the much-loved members of Wesley died on 30 September. He was one of the most distinguished agricultural economists in the country, whose academic career took him successively from research economist, then lecturer and reader at Reading University, and on to a chair at Aberdeen. He returned to Reading as Professor of Agricultural Economics in 1984. He retired in 1997, although that did not his writing and speaking at conferences, both of which continued until ill health forced him to stop a few weeks before his death. He was member (and sometime chairman) of the Agricultural Wages Board, served on the Potato Marketing Board, the Burns committee on hunting and numerous other committees. He was honoured by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, who granted him their National Agricultural Award in 2011, and with a CBE in 1993 and a knighthood in 1999.

            John was born on 5 October 1931, the son of a Methodist minister, from whom he inherited a deeply held Christian belief – of the Methodist kind in particular – and a love of learning. His Christianity drove him throughout his life, and gave him a deep humility. The honours heaped on him were appreciated, but he knew they were as nothing compared with the honour of his master Jesus Christ, which he sought to do faithfully in his daily work and in family life. His main contribution to the church was as a local preacher. He was 60 years a local preacher – the church ran out of long-service awards – and never gave up. He was preparing sermons in the weeks before he died. His body might have been losing power in recent years, but his intellect and spirit never did.

            He brought to his preaching the same spirit of enquiry, clarity of thought and power of communication that made his research and teaching so effective. His students acknowledged his gifts as a communicator; so did his congregations. He could reach all, whether the big academic conference or a small evening congregation. His preaching was Bible-based: he always preferred to work from the lectionary for the week, which he applied to the reality of life in contemporary society. His Methodist upbringing perhaps accounted for his love of singing, especially the ‘strong’ hymns of writers, such as Charles Wesley, which had theological substance. He would sing these with gusto, to the consternation, sometimes, of those around him. He liked music generally: he had played the organ, and had a substantial collection of records.

            John was not the complete high-brow. He had a warm sense of fun, and enjoyed a great deal of popular culture. ‘I watch too much television’, he would sometimes say, as he launched into an apt illustration for a sermon drawn from Strictly Come Dancing or another frivolous show. One of his favourites was The Sound of Music, which he would watch time and again with his family.

            Kindness, wisdom, loving, warm and generous – some of the many attributes of a friend and member of the Wesley family, who has blessed us all.

  • Queens Road
  • Reading
  • Berkshire
  • RG1 4BW


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