The Rev Dr Humphrey Fisher obituary

Other lives: Academic and priest committed to inclusion and diversity

My father, Humphrey Fisher, who has died aged 85, was an academic and priest deeply committed to inclusion and diversity. He never achieved high office, but instead sought to support his students and to bridge religious and ethnic differences.

Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, he was the son of Allan Fisher and his wife, Airini (nee Pope), both academics. His father’s career as an economist took the family to Australia and Britain. Humphrey was evacuated to Canada during the second world war.

He attended primary school in Oxford and Canada. After the war, when his father joined the International Monetary Fund, Humphrey went to Sidwell Friends Quaker school in Washington DC. He studied liberal arts at Deep Springs College, California, then went to Harvard, graduating in 1955. He took his PhD at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, focusing on the Ahmadiyya Muslims in west Africa.

In Oxford he met and married Helga Kricke, a nurse whose German family had been exiled from their home in Peru during the war. Their first son was born in Nigeria and their second in Jordan, where Humphrey managed a farm for Palestinian refugees.

In 1962 he started work as a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), London University, specialising in Islamic history south of the Sahara, and remained there for a long academic career, retiring in 2001. Humphrey created the religious studies programme at Soas, breaking down barriers between religious specialisms, and provided generous support to diverse students, including those wanting to explore their heritage.

Humphrey was way ahead of his time for the 1960s and 70s in the way he chose to bring up his children. He would work several days a week from our home in Hampton, south-west London, to be there for his four sons. He never missed a concert, sports match or other event. When I started school, he managed his commute so that he could wave as I crossed the railway bridge on my way to school.

In 1986 he moved to Newchurch in the Welsh borders. Long an active Quaker, he became ordained in the (Anglican) Church in Wales by training at a Catholic college, and preached at Presbyterian churches. He also continued his academic career, teaching Islam and its history and drawing together teachers and students of different religions.

At St Mary’s church, Newchurch, he provided tea-making facilities for walkers on Offa’s Dyke path, drawing thousands of visitors into the church. He also instituted the annual Kilvert pilgrimage, now in its 20th year, linking the four rural churches he served as a non-stipendiary minister.

Helga died in 2012. Humphrey is survived by their sons, Clem, Duncan, Crispin and me, 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Thomas Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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