The Very Reverend Derek Hole, Provost of Leicester Cathedral whose immense pastoral gifts were reflected in his appointment as Chaplain to the Queen – obituary

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The Very Revd Derek Hole, far right, and the Venerable Tim Stratford, Archdeacon of Leicester, far left, with local dignitaries after the Framework Knitters' annual service at St Peter’s Church, Oadby - Peter White
The Very Revd Derek Hole, far right, and the Venerable Tim Stratford, Archdeacon of Leicester, far left, with local dignitaries after the Framework Knitters' annual service at St Peter’s Church, Oadby - Peter White

The Very Reverend Derek Hole, who has died aged 87, was for many years the best-known clergyman in Leicester, where he remained after serving as vicar of the Church of St James the Greater from 1973 to 1992, then Provost of Leicester Cathedral until 1999.

He had exceptional pastoral gifts which he sometimes offered to wealthy but lonely spinsters and widows. Some of them rewarded him with substantial legacies that made him a rich man. Hole gave much of the money away, principally to Leicester’s two universities. His only known indulgence was buying luxury cars.

As with his distinguished 19-year ministry at St James the Greater, Hole placed dignified worship and excellent choral music at the heart of Leicester Cathedral’s life; this was much appreciated by regular worshippers and those who came for special diocesan services such as ordinations.

In those days, however, long before the reinterment of the remains of King Richard III made it a focus of attention, the cathedral had a modest impact on county life. The building and its environs were not the most attractive. It was called “the Cinderella of cathedrals”; car parking was not easy in the vicinity, and people outside the city were reluctant to visit or make the effort of attending services.

Hole himself was not fully at ease in the cathedral setting, but drawing upon his many links and contacts from his earlier ministry at St James’s, he set out to strengthen the cathedral’s place in a multi-cultural and multi-faith city. The success of his approach was clearly illustrated in the way people of all faiths and none came into the building to sit and reflect following the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

Derek Hole left his successors as provost and then dean a solid platform on which to develop further the cathedral’s outreach and infrastructure, to considerable effect.

Derek Hole: a great capacity for friendship - Courtesy of the Church of St James the Greater, Leicester
Derek Hole: a great capacity for friendship - Courtesy of the Church of St James the Greater, Leicester

Derek Norman Hole was born on December 5 1933; his parents were Frank and Ella Hole (née Thomas). He was educated locally at Plymouth Public Central School. Following National Service in the Royal Air Force and a short spell as an assistant librarian at the Codrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford, he trained for Holy Orders at Lincoln Theological College. He was ordained in 1960 to a curacy at Knighton in the diocese of Leicester.

Two years later, he was appointed Domestic Chaplain to the Archbishop of Cape Town, Joost de Blank, known as “the scourge of apartheid”, who refused to preach in any church where black people were not welcome. The Archbishop’s prophetic ministry, not without risk to himself and his staff, was, however, cut short when he suffered a stroke, forcing him to return to England in 1963.

Hole followed a year later, to serve for three years as curate of St Nicholas, Kenilworth, before his appointment in 1967 as Rector of Burton Latimer in the diocese of Peterborough.

His return to Leicester in 1973 as Vicar of St James the Greater marked the start of an ecclesiastical and civic ministry in the region which continued beyond his retirement from the cathedral 26 years later.

His immense capacity for friendship and pastoral support was reflected in his extensive collection of honorary chaplaincies, which included seven years as Chaplain to the Queen, three stints as Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Leicester, seven to county High Sheriffs, 10 years as Chaplain of Leicester High School and five at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre.

He was drawn to St James the Greater as his spiritual home and was chairman of the church’s Friends - Courtesy of St James the Greater
He was drawn to St James the Greater as his spiritual home and was chairman of the church’s Friends - Courtesy of St James the Greater

Hole also served as chaplain to the Master of the Merchant Taylors’ Company for the year 1995-96 and became a liveryman himself with the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters. He served as trustee, chairman or president of numerous charitable organisations as well as on diocesan and national church committees.

He sponsored an academic prize for nursing students at De Montfort University and an annual student prize in the Department of Cardiovascular Science at the older Leicester University, as well as a series of annual lectures on faith and ethics in both institutions. Each responded with an honorary doctorate.

Upon his retirement from Leicester Cathedral, Hole was made Provost Emeritus. It is, though, significant that he then felt drawn back to St James the Greater as his spiritual home. He became chairman of the Friends of the church and arranged that his funeral would be held there. Meanwhile, he continued to be active in the city and region, serving among other things as governor of a number of schools.

Hole listed among his recreations bridge, music, walking, Victorian history and reading biographies. He was unmarried.

The Very Reverend Derek Hole, born December 5 1933, died September 4 2021

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