Olive Gibbins obituary

My mother-in-law Olive Gibbins, who has died aged 92, formed one of the most formidable partnerships in modern Methodism with her husband, Ronald Gibbins, who was a minister at the Methodist mother church, Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London.

There, between 1978 and 1988, she became the “first lady” of Methodism, entertaining a host of dignitaries, including the Queen, Margaret Thatcher (who had married at the chapel) and Desmond Tutu. The couple also maintained contact with their fellow ecumenicals, Trevor Huddlestone and Derek Warlock, and travelled widely – especially to the US and Australia – raising funds to restore the chapel.

Olive was born in Bradford to Smith Patchett, a woollen mill worker, and his wife, Ruth (nee Bishop). After attending Grange high school for girls in Bradford, she worked in a laboratory serving local woollen mills, and met Ron at the city’s Methodist Eastbrook Hall. They married in 1949, after which they were despatched to the miserable, draughty Spennymore and Ferryhill district manse in the north-east of England, serving in Middlesbrough and Spennymoor and ministering to the families of miners and steel and chemical workers.

In 1957 they set up a new church in Basildon, Essex, where many postwar East Enders had moved after the second world war. Then, in 1964, Ron, who was from the East End of London himself, was made superintendent minister of the huge East End Mission in Commercial Road, Stepney, where the couple transformed the building and services it provided.

Olive did teacher training at Southlands College, London University and qualified in the late 1960s, which allowed her to become a teacher at several East End primary schools and then to become head of religious education at Bethnal Green comprehensive school.

At the same time she ploughed on with a master’s degree in theology at London University, teaching herself Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic so that she could study ancient texts. Once she had that under her belt, she switched to lecturing trainee Methodist ministers at Westminster College, Oxford and, for 10 years from 1972, was principal lecturer responsible for teacher training at Middlesex Polytechnic. She was also a visiting lecturer in theology, ethics and New Testament instruction at London University’s Institute of Education.

When Ron officially retired in 1988, Olive was still lecturing, and the couple moved to Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, with Ron acting as a supernumerary minister at Surbiton Hill Methodist church. Eventually they moved to Tavistock in Devon to be closer to family, including their grandsons, the folk musicians Seth, Sean and Sam Lakeman.

After Ron died in 2015, Olive continued to worship at St Eustachius church in Tavistock. She went on trips to the seaside and nearby Dartmoor, was an avid reader and watercolour painter, and enjoyed visits from her ever-growing family.

She is survived by her three children, Joy (my wife), Catherine and Timothy, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Leave a Comment