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Tributes to Lord Cormack by Lord Hennessy and the Bishop of Lincoln

Lord Cormack: 18 May 1939 – 25 February 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Lord Hennessy and the Bishop of Lincoln

5 min read

A ‘Grade I listed’ parliamentary romantic and ‘shadow bishop of Lincoln’, few obituaries to date have captured the essence of Patrick Cormack – a resolute man with a gift for friendships across the party divide

Patrick loved Parliament. He adored it as an institution. He savoured the cut of every stone. It was almost as if he knew each piece personally and had regular conversations with them. They told him their history. For their part, every colleague, first in the House of Commons and later in the House of Lords, could imitate Patrick’s trademark, almost Gilbert and Sullivan-like pronunciation of “Par-li-a-ment”.

As parliamentary romantics go, Patrick himself was Grade I listed. But our shaky old building, somehow holding together on its bespoke swamp beside the river, was a thing of indispensable utility too.

For Patrick, it’s where we had come, over generations untold, to learn the art and practice of dispute resolution. For him, the whole great enterprise with all its peculiar, sometimes near incomprehensible procedures rested on a deal: raised voices, yes; raised fists, no. It was a joy to observe Patrick in full cry from my perch on the crossbenches, as he spoke without a note in an almost 19th-century style.

He could get quite cross about some of the other institutions that spoke to his heart and mind if they cut corners or failed to aspire to what he thought was right: the Church of England; the Conservative Party; tie-less members in the chamber all come to mind. 

Patrick loved cathedrals. He and Mary lived in the shadow of one of the greatest – Lincoln. Every morning, when at home, that huge building towered before him – a symphony in carved stone pointing heavenward.

For Patrick, Parliament is where we had come, over generations untold, to learn the art and practice of dispute resolution

He loved books too. Political chats were infused with his learning. I had two Westminster friends who would regularly enliven my Sundays on the telephone (and they were great chums too), Patrick and Tam Dalyell. 

Patrick had a gift for friendships that ignored party divisions. Jim Callaghan, for example, was another pal. Over the past decade, Patrick came more and more to believe that, so great are the problems facing the country, that we need a national government for a time and wrote letters to The Times about it.

I shall miss his companionship and his thoughts, his observations on character and circumstance. At 10:10 precisely on Sunday mornings, the phone would ring and we would try and make sense of the week gone by. Now I will have to find another reason for not listening to The Archers omnibus edition. 

Lord Hennessy is a crossbench peer

I was recently in the Bishops’ Bar and a number of colleagues greeted me as “Cormack’s bishop”. One of my predecessors as Bishop of Lincoln, Bob Hardy, reminded the public at the beginning of his ministry that he was the REAL bishop, in the light of Patrick’s strong and assertive association with the cathedral and county.

I celebrate Patrick’s profound Christian faith, rooted in the language and cadence of his beloved Book of Common Prayer. He rarely missed the early service of Holy Communion on Sundays at Lincoln Cathedral and was often at Evensong, a keen supporter of the cathedral choir. He took his role as deputy high steward very seriously. He had a long track record as a devoted church warden in Staffordshire, who led worship himself when a priest was not available so that there was no Sunday when God’s name was not praised. He also served with distinction as church warden at St Margaret’s, Westminster. 

I enjoyed unfailing support from Patrick. This was also true of at least four predecessors. He was also a close friend of Keith Sutton, sometime Bishop of Lichfield, in whose diocese he served with distinction as a Member of Parliament for 40 years. 

Patrick was a firm supporter of the place of Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords. This did not exempt us from criticism or forceful exhortation. Only a few weeks ago he was encouraging me to make more time to be in attendance because there were occasions when, in his view, one or more of us should have been speaking out on some moral of spiritual issue arising from the deliberations of the House. Jokes about his being the “shadow” Bishop of Lincoln found some ground in his rising to his feet to offer an explicitly traditional Christian contribution to any debate where Lords Spiritual were not present or deemed not clear enough. This carried over into his significant contribution to the General Synod, the representative assembly of the Church of England.

We shall miss the Cormack effect hugely in the City of Lincoln

We shall miss the Cormack effect hugely in the City of Lincoln and across Greater Lincolnshire. Patrick was a tireless animator and fundraiser for many good causes. He was an innovative president, patron and chair of organisations and groups guaranteeing the better conservation and interpretation of our heritage and access to it. He excelled at drawing people in to support his causes. On more than one occasion he invited me to say grace at a fundraiser only to discover that I was giving the keynote speech. 

Obituaries have failed sufficiently to capture his essence. He was a cultured and resolute person who was also deeply compassionate and – with Mary, his dear spouse – warmly hospitable and generous. At a recent Prayerbook Society occasion in Lincoln, Patrick was in full flight as the president. As Disraeli said of Gladstone, Patrick could present as “a sophistical rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity”; but he was undoubtedly a humorous, dedicated and godly friend. Our loss is heaven’s gain. 

The Bishop of Lincoln is a non-affiliated peer

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