Tributes paid to gifted Ormesby parish priest

HEARTFELT tributes have been paid to a popular local vicar who died aged 62 at his Ormesby St Margaret home early on Wednesday.

Rev Neil Spencer, known as Reverend Neil, died after a five week diagnosis of cancer, his courage and humour in the face of terminal illness inspiring everyone who came into contact with him. A quiet man with a reputation for “knowing his onions” and getting things done, Rev Neil’s likeable nature won him many friends and a growing congregation.

A familiar figure striding around his village in flowing black robes, he is remembered for his humour and ability to connect with people of all ages, forging strong links with local schools

Leading the tributes, the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said, “Neil was a gifted and dedicated priest who loved his people and parishes and was greatly loved in return. His final illness took hold very quickly but Neil faced his death with faith and courage.”

Church treasurer and former churchwarden Geoff Freeman, who appointed him said he was a wonderful man with a delightfully ruthless streak when it came to vegetables: “The first time I met him I knew he was the right man for our parish priest,” he said. “Of all the priests I have ever known he gave the finest sermons. His sermons were wonderful and he never, ever had a note.

“He involved himself so much in village life. He was on the village hall committee and I so much wanted him to be there to dedicate it.

“He was also a very keen gardener and we always joked it wasn’t about the taking part, it was about the winning. At the village show he always beat me with his onions and I won the sweet peas. We had such wonderful times. I never knew you could be so attached to somebody who is not actually a relative.”

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Rev Karen Rayner, from Acle, who trained under Rev Neil said: “He was such a larger than life personality who loved people and was interested in them. He was just the most brilliant and inspiring teacher. Every moment that I spent with him was a privilege.”

And churchwarden Ivy Eyre, said: “He was a marvellous man, so genuine and so clever but he never talked down to you. Right to the end he was so upbeat saying it was just another great adventure.”

At Ormesby Village Infant School, where Rev Neil was a governor, headteacher Lucy Bates was preparing to break the news to children who had come to hold him in high affection, as well as arrange a permanent memorial.

She said: “He was a much loved member of our school community. The children loved his assemblies and always enjoyed their visits to the church, both for services and general visits. He had a super way with the children and understood how to capture their interest and enthusiasm for learning. He will be sorely missed on the governing body for his wit, sense of humour and agile mind.”

Born in 1949 in the West Midlands, Rev Neil graduated from Leeds university in 1970 studying for a further two years to gain a library qualification before taking up a career as an area librarian in South Herefordshire.

In 1996 he trained at the West of England Ministerial Training Course to become a priest. He was ordained in 1999 in Hereford Cathedral and went on to be a curate in the diocese of Hereford before moving to Norfolk in 2005 to take up a post as the parish priest for the benefice of Ormesby St Margaret with Scratby, Ormesby St Michael. and St Georges at Rollesby.

He leaves a widow Carrie, and a daughter Angie who lives in Derbyshire. The couple met at university and were married in Yarmouth in 1970.

The funeral service will be conducted by the Rt Rev Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford, at St Margaret’s, Ormesby, on February 7, followed by cremation. A memorial book has been opened in the church.