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2008/01/09

The Reverend Prebendary Edward Chad Varah + The Samaritans

I am writing this after reviewing the website of The Samaritans organisation in the UK and being unable to find an obituary for or mention of the recent death of their founder. Either the information was buried away in some obscure corner of the site, or there has been an unfortunate omission. Either way, I shall try to correct the matter with this post in this blog.

Dr Edward Chad Varah

Clergyman and founder of The Samaritans, born November 12 1911; died November 8 2007. His wife died in 1993, and he was survived by four of his children.

See two obituaries here, on the BBC and Guardian websites. During his 95 years on this earth and in this life (he believed in reincarnation), Dr Varah would have had a direct or an indirect effect on countless thousands of people. He is still affecting them today - as witness this blog post. Lincoln University in the UK named Chad House after him. Among many awards, Varah was made a Companion of Honour (CBE) for services to The Samaritans, in the Millennium Year honours list.

The original stimulus that lay behind Dr Varah's starting up the Samaritans was an incident in 1935, when Varah had conducted his first funeral, as an assistant curate in Lincoln. The deceased was a 13 or 14-year-old girl who had committed suicide, and was being buried in unconsecrated ground. On asking why she was to be buried there, Varah was told that it was because she had taken her own life - apparently she had feared that she had venereal disease and that she would die a slow, painful and shameful death. In fact, the girl had just started to menstruate and she was ignorant of the facts of life. Varah vowed at her graveside to devote himself to helping other people overcome the sort of isolation and ignorance that had caused the girl to kill herself. He would do it through a combination of education, and by providing access to emotional support in times of need. As one of the earlier proponents of sex education, particularly to poorly educated young people, he earned the label, as he wryly observed later, of "a 'dirty old man' by the time I was 25".

During a BBC World Service Radio interview, broadcast in 1998, Dr Variah mentioned the time when he came to believe in reincarnation, and he also told of a time when God answered his prayers for a simple thing at the time he was setting up the Samaritans. He had prayed that the telephone number would be MAN9000, knowing however that it was highly unlikely that he would get it - in those days (the 1950s) the Post Office allocated telephone numbers more or less randomly through an administrative process that had no room for personal preference. He was therefore highly surprised and delighted that, when he went in to inspect the offices (which were being decorated) one day after the telephone had been connected, he wiped the plaster dust off the phone dial to see that the number was the same as he had hoped and prayed for.

May God help the rest of us to help others, as he did Chad Varah.
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