Alan Sayles obituary

Other lives: Christian lay preacher who played a key role in setting up a hospice in Chelmsford, Essex

My brother-in-law, Alan Sayles, who has died aged 85, was a Christian lay preacher and local leader at Writtle Congregational (now United Reformed) church, near Chelmsford, Essex.

Instrumental in the setting up of a hospice, Farleigh, in the city, in 1984, Alan was its company secretary and trustee on opening. Later he was its chair, then president. He became involved in the hospice movement nationally, and in the late 1980s was chair of what became the National Council for Palliative Care. In 2000 he was appointed OBE for his services to the hospice movement.

Born in Rugby, Warwickshire, Alan was the only son of Nellie (nee Palmer) and Leslie Sayles, the works engineer at British Thomson-Houston in Rugby. Alan was awarded a scholarship to Rugby school, going on to study history at Brasenose College, Oxford, graduating in 1952. He then took articles and qualified as a solicitor.

He met my sister, Deborah Hart, a civil servant, in 1960 and they married the following year. In 1970 they settled in Writtle, in what is still the family home. Their children, Catherine, Richard and Ruth, were raised there.

After their move to Essex Alan became a partner at Duthie Hart & Duthie in Hornchurch, and later at Hilliard & Ward in Chelmsford. When the company amalgamated with another firm he took early retirement and then held various charity administration posts, including clerk to the Keene Homes (almshouses) in Chelmsford and for several other charities. He left these when he joined with others to set up Farleigh hospice.

A quiet and modest man, nevertheless Alan was an entertainer by nature. He played the piano (and the organ when necessary) both for family and in public, had written comedy sketches while in the army during national service, and appeared in various amateur theatrical productions, memorably A Victorian Music Hall, a production in which he starred as the Galloping Major.

He was witty with a wry, sometimes cringe-making, sense of humour, enjoying puns particularly. He was a long-time Guardian reader; despite his love of words, he never progressed beyond the quick crossword.

Alan and Deborah travelled extensively around the UK and worldwide. His faith was important to him but he did not seek to impose his beliefs on others. He was a longstanding member of his local Rotary Club, had a strong philanthropic concern for people and was loving and loyal to family and friends.

Alan died peacefully at Farleigh hospice. He is survived by Deborah, their children, and five grandsons, Sami, Daniel, George, William and Conor.

Liz Calvert

The GuardianTramp

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