" A man must be ready, for death comes when and where God wills it. "
Saint John Neumann C.Ss.R
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  • vocations7

Canon Bill Anderson RIP...

A few men in our Provincehad the privilege of knowing this wonderful man.

canon w anderson

  There are obituaries, of course, of this wonderful priest, tracing his distinguished career from a degree in classics at Cambridge, to philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, being ordained for the archdiocese of Edinburgh, teaching at Blairs College, going on to work at the BBC Religious Affairs department, moving to the Scots College in Rome as spiritual director, returning to teach at Blairs, then chaplain to Aberdeen University, administrator of Aberdeen Cathedral where he was made a canon, then parish priest, hospital and school chaplain, and finally retirement.

None of this elegant procession of appointments captures who Bill was as a human being. Obituaries tend to trace nominations and achievements, as if a life can be reckoned by a litany of labelling: you are left to guess, too often on reading, what the person was really like, what made them hum, what hurt them or what haunted them, how they influenced others.

I knew Fr Bill – Big Hank as he was known then at Blairs College – only from 1962-65. Writing this now, so many years later, I am 68 years old; way back then I was 13-16 years old. The memory of him all those years ago, rather than the grim granite college, remains remarkably steadfast and grateful. This is only my recollection, of course. Among the professors of the time, he stood out as  delightfully odd to me: I was a hopelessly nervous student and I thought I could catch something of the same in his demeanour. Entering a classroom, head down inclined to the right, he sometimes looked remarkably awkward as if he had arrived on the wrong planet. After arrival, however, he always commanded the space.

Among a predictable regime of black cassocks in Blairs he was the exception among his brothers, the one who wore Joseph’s technicolour coat. Fr Bill had an individual presence, a naturally dramatic character allied to a vague uneasiness that he might be appearing on the wrong stage. He beamed a sympathetic face and offered a ready ear. He was delightful theatre amidst the endless round of ordinary time. For me, all the other professors paled by comparison, disappearing into a fog of forgetfulness.

He loved drama, literature, poetry. I still remember at the end of a few English classes, after wrestling with Pendlebury, he would break off and read an excerpt from the novel Three Men in a Boat, which left me hopeless with laughter. In a world of dreary study he was sure to offer a shining gift. More importantly, he was a pastor of souls with a sympathetic imagination which enabled him to put himself in the shoes of any struggling student, for which I shall be eternally grateful. He enshrined the Gospel verse: "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest."

Now, after all those years, I have written over twenty books, not least because Fr Bill infused in me, so long ago, a love of the word and its energy to connect with people. Who knows why we end up doing what we do? Who knows which teachers in our past have led us, however obliquely, to who we have become?

I am sincerely sorry I did not attend him before he died, to say thank you. This note is a poor substitute.

Denis McBride