Article taken from “Building Bridges of Love” by Phil Mason - 1985

Canon William Edward Pitt:

Canon William Edward Pitt, Rector 1973-1982

Edward Pitt was one of the most patient men I have ever known. A shy, kind and gentle man he had cultivated a calmness that bordered on serenity.

I particularly remember one Christmas when his wife was very ill and had been unconscious for three days. Though a sick man himself he had already conducted three services that Christmas Day as well as coping with the demands of his family. I was the only person at Evensong on Christmas afternoon and together we said the ‘Office’ by the lighted crib. During a short chat afterwards he casually remarked that he had to go into hospital after Christmas to have a gland removed. In spite of this and the obvious concern for his wife, he seemed so calm and reminded me of the following thoughts on the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my pacesetter.

I shall not rush

He makes me stop for quiet intervals

He provides me with images of stillness

which restore my serenity.

He leads me in the way of efficiency

through calmness of mind and His guidance is peace.

William Edward Pitt — or Bill as his mother called him and Edward to his friends — was born in Gerrards Cross in 1924. He was the only son of a dentist and went to school at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham prior to studying at Keble College, Oxford. He was a rather shy, scholarly youth who had one real ambition in life - to become a priest. After training at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford he was ordained in St. Paul’s Cathedral and served his title at Holy Cross, Greenford.

He realised the need of the Mission Field and set out for Africa where he was a lecturer at St. John’s Theological College, Lusaka. Africa was to change his life for, during a visit to Msoro Mission Station, he met his future wife Eileen who was teaching at the Mission. Though Eileen now claims that she was also a very shy person she was just the person he needed to add confidence to his work and ministry.

They returned home and were married on 3rd June, 1961 at St. Michael’s, Handsworth, Birmingham, prior to setting out to work in South Africa where Edward became Sub Warden at St. Bede’s College, Umtata. This was a very happy period blessed by the arrival of a daughter Rebecca in 1963, and a son Jonathan in 1966. The growing family also included two foster children Cheryl and Roy. The door of their home was rather like ‘Dr. Barnardo’s EVER OPEN.’ Each Saturday two students would be invited for supper, others would come for advice, help and encouragement - everyone was welcome.

They would have been content to have laboured here for ever, but they were both opposed to the system of ‘Apartheid’ and as the children approached school age they made the difficult decision to return home.

Their next home was the Rectory at Stoke Albany, a peaceful Northamptonshire Village. The living also included the neighbouring village of Wilbarston visible across the fields, which though somewhat larger is very pleasant and rural, plus the hamlet of Pipewell. Whilst they were at Stoke Albany they ‘chose’ Clare as their adopted daughter.

In 1973 he became Rector of Burton Latimer, one of the small towns that straddle the A6 between Market Harborough and Bedford. (Click here for newspaper report of Rev E Pitt's arrival in the parish. Click here for account of Rev Pitt's institution) It was quite a change to have a family living in the Rectory at Burton after many years with a bachelor incumbent. Although by nature Edward Pitt was rather unassuming he gradually made his presence felt as he set about the task of building up the spiritual life of the parish.

In 1976, as he was preparing to conduct a Wedding he lost his voice. He also noticed a large swelling in his armpit. It was the first sign that something was wrong and he later discovered that he was suffering from Hodgkins Disease. After an operation to remove the affected gland he had to attend hospital for radiotherapy every day for a month. It was a very hot, dry summer and often he would return home exhausted. During the next six years there were more operations and more treatment as his condition deteriorated. However he continued his full time ministry in spite of the fact that for some of the time his wife was very ill and he had to make himself available to his three growing children as well as cope with the demands of a busy parish.

Many nights the pain made sleep impossible and he would creep downstairs to spend the twilight hours in prayer. The next morning he would be in church early, before setting out to build ‘Bridges of Love’ wherever he could.

He never complained and thought only of others. In doing so he grew closer to the Lord he loved, gaining an inner peace and calmness which gave him the strength to face life. At times he found it very painful to stand and would sit down both during the hymns and to preach. One evening after attending a ‘House Group’ he was so ill that he collapsed and had to sit on the stairs before he could get himself home to bed. Sometimes he looked very ill but when asked how he felt he would usually answer, “I’m fine”. He would joke about the fact that he had always looked somewhat older than his age and loved telling about the occasion when he was playing on the beach with his young son and some people passing by said, “Here’s Grandad enjoying himself.”

He always had a ready smile and when smiling looked younger and free of pain. One little girl he had prepared for confirmation in his previous parish wrote in her Confirmation book in answer to the question, ‘What is religion?’ ‘Religion is the smile I give to my brother and the smile he gives me back.’ He was very touched by this Islamic proverb.

In November 1982 Edward began to lose the use of his legs and was admitted to hospital where he died three weeks later.

His funeral, on a dull December afternoon was a joyful Mass of Thanksgiving. In his sermon Bishop Douglas Feaver said:

“11 St. Peter 1. v5-7. ‘Give all diligence; add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity.’

And in Edward’s reflection of his Lord whom he served with all his heart and mind and strength, the words ‘to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness’ shine through all the gloom and grief at his untimely death.’

It was a happy service. The Bishop and Edward had been good friends. The former an ardent supporter of the prayer book service, whilst the latter preferred the modern language of the A.S.B.

Later in his address the Bishop said, “Edward is entered into the joy of his Lord. He will have a few things to surprise him, not least that the wordiness of A.S.B. has little to do with the language of heaven. I ought to have warned him of that last week.”

One of the many letters received after his death started:

‘So we have another saint in heaven.’

Perhaps the most fitting tribute of all came from a colleague who had served as a curate with him in Greenford.

He wrote ‘‘I think the real person is the spirit in us, a spirit which is re-newed every day. The proof of that spirit is the love and the joy and the peace, the patience and the long suffering, which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. Death is not all loss. It is part of the process by which God our father recreates us, makes us ready for the life of the world to me."

Edward Pitt was patient and long suffering. His life had proved that beyond any doubt that death is not the end, but the beginning of a better and more glorious life.