Frances Whitehead, Secretary to John Stott for 55 Years, Goes to Glory

Jun 11, 2019 by

by Julia Cameron, EFAC Director of Publishing
Frances Whitehead died peacefully at her home in Bourne End on 1 June, at the age of 94. A thanksgiving service for her life and ministry will be held in All Souls Church, Langham Place, London W1 on Friday 21 June at 2pm.
Frances’s legacy and the legacy of John Stott cannot be pulled apart, as on a human level she enabled him to achieve what he achieved. The extent and effectiveness of his ministry was massive, and he would be named by TIME magazine in 2005 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
While Frances and he both came from privileged backgrounds, they always served with humility.  There was a modesty about their Weymouth Street centre of operation which could take people by surprise. They were frugal and unpretentious, focused and exacting: a team of two, later joined by a study assistant. Frances carried the job title of ‘secretary’ from the time she was appointed in April 1956 until she retired finally in 2012, aged 87 (having placed all John Stott’s archives in Lambeth Palace Library).
Frances Whitehead oversaw the early beginnings of Langham Partnership, which is now working to strengthen the church in 130 nations.  EFAC, CEEC, the first NEAC, LICC*  – for each of these Frances worked to develop the infrastructure. From the mid-1970s John Stott would give much time to the Lausanne Movement, through its working groups, and in editing major papers, which were all then typed by Frances. She joined the office team onsite in Pattaya for the first Lausanne COWE*.
It was Frances’s arrival on the All Souls staff which first enabled John, then Rector of All Souls, to accept invitations to travel. While his early trips were to lead university missions, all his subsequent travel would have an IFES component, arranged by Frances. John Stott’s natural way of working was to build friendships, and to keep in touch. This relied on Frances handling a huge ongoing correspondence, over his name or hers. In this way many staff and graduates of IFES movements were drawn into his wider networks, Anglican and interdenominational, independent and intersecting. As John Stott became ‘Uncle John’ around the world, so she became ‘Auntie Frances’.
As well as managing Stott’s diary, nurturing his new endeavours, fielding phone calls, and welcoming a stream of international visitors who were passing through London, Frances typed all John Stott’s books from longhand. They would relocate the office to The Hookses, Stott’s writing retreat in West Wales, for a focused block of time each year, and invite friends to join them.
Frances had previously worked for the BBC, assisting the Producer Mary Treadgold, who was known as an ardent feminist, and was not sympathetic to evangelicals. Frances gave her life to Christ during her BBC years. She wandered into a lunchtime service at St Peter’s, Vere Street when John Stott was preaching, and then started to go regularly to All Souls. Three years after her conversion, and knowing very little about the evangelical world, she made an appointment with the Rector to explore with him the idea of training for overseas mission. Sensing her good mind (she had done secret war work as a mathematician), he invited her instead to become his secretary.
Frances’s name would soon be well-known the world over as John Stott’s gatekeeper; she was tigerish in ensuring that his time was protected, and she could, in the words of one of Stott’s US study assistants, ‘intimidate the socks off any pushy American.’ She served as one of John Stott’s Literary Executors until 2011, thereafter remaining as a consultant. The book John considered his best, The Cross of Christ, was dedicated to her.
In recognition of Frances Whitehead’s unique service, Archbishop George Carey conferred on her a Lambeth MA in 2001. This is regarded as an earned degree.
It was said that Frances knew Stott’s mind better than anyone.  As well as being partners in ministry, they were friends. Frances was at John’s bedside with his close family when he died, and she was Executor of his Will. At his request, she gave the opening tribute at his Memorial Service in St Paul’s Cathedral in 2012.
An updated edition of Frances Whitehead’s authorized biography John Stott’s Right Hand by Julia Cameron will be released in October. It was a story John Stott himself hoped would one day be told.
EFAC Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion
CEEC Church of England Evangelical Council
NEAC National Evangelical Anglican Congress
LICC London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
IFES International Fellowship of Evangelical Students
COWE Consultation on World Evangelization

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