The Rev Nicolas Stacey, who died at the age of 89 years, left the Anglican ministry because he came to believe that he was better able to try to build the kingdom of God through secular structures. He was an outstanding director of social services for Kent from 1974 to 1985 and has had a lifetime of practical influence outside the county.
Nick was the type of official that social services departments needed as they found their feet in 1970, he possessed an exuberant leadership style and ability to translate innovative ideas into policies, combined with imagination, commitment and energy. He was also a flamboyant and iconoclastic, with a patrician manner and a tendency to say what she thought (often vehemently and loudly) in a self-confident, upper-middle-class accent.
Although this often stemmed from impatience with the incompetence and inaction, it meant that he was someone that many of its greyer colleagues in local government, he felt instinctively, but wrongly, suspect. After leaving Kent, never more was he to find a job commensurate with his gifts.
Born in London, Nick was a twin, and one of the three children of rich parents, David Stacey, a stockbroker, and his wife, Gwen (nee). At the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, he won the king of the telescope (the naval equivalent of Sandhurst sword of honour). He saw active service as a sub-lieutenant aboard HMS Anson in the last months of the second world war, the first ship to enter Hong Kong after the surrender of japan.
At Dartmouth, he had come to a mature understanding of Christianity through the influence of a naval chaplain, Geoffrey Tiarks, later the bishop of Maidstone. The devastation of Hiroshima, he was there two months after the explosion), and what he saw of the poverty, hardship and exploitation, as well as often useless, off-duty life of the companions, the staff of the service, convinced him of the reality of sin. As he wrote in his autobiography, Who Cares (1971), a priest in the front line against the evil, the cause of so much human misery,” was what he felt called to be.
He resigned his commission, he studied modern history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and sought to co-ordination at Cuddesdon Theological College, outside of the city. In Oxford, Nick has competed as a sprinter in the British Empire games in 1949, and in 1951, he served as a captain in the combination of Oxford and Cambridge athletics team. In the 1952 Olympics, was a semi-finalist in the 200 meters and runner-up in the 4x400m relay.
He became vice-curate in the working class parish of St. Mark, Portsea, Hampshire (1953-58), and then served for two years as domestic chaplain Leonard Wilson, the bishop of Birmingham. In 1960, he was installed as rector of Woolwich. Its new, colorful and prophetic bishop, Mervyn Stockwood, exhorted his new recruit to “show the people of Woolwich that the church exists”. He immediately saw that the immense resources of the church in the 20th century, have been established to serve the population patterns of the 17th century.
He believed that the resources, the talent and the leadership spilled into the parish system could reinvigorate the church. One of the churches was closed, and a large Georgian had his galleries are sealed, with the side aisles, becoming the local offices, voluntary organisations. It was wide open for week-day use of the profane: the Samaritans moved in; there was a bar-cafeteria and a disco was held in the crypt. A youth club was such a success that it was used by probation officers for their young customers.
Nick has assembled a large team ministry for the recruitment of a Methodist minister, Baptist ministers and a Catholic priest. The Presbyterians closed their church and have joined forces. Intensive parish the visit is undertaken. He has also contributed to the founding and for a time ran (non-paid capacity) on the Dial (now London & Quadrant) Housing Association, which today manages more than 70,000 homes.
During the week, more than 1,500 people have made use of these new structures, but the effect on compliance was marginal and the Sunday congregation only increased to 200. Four years later, the Observer was customary to use national and local newspapers to make his case, so as to finance his business, Nick found that despite the hard work, successful fundraising, and brilliant ideas, his ministry in Woolwich was a “failure”. He served for three years as principal of Greenwich, but in 1968 left the parish ministry. Much of what he has done, as a team, and shared and local, is now a common place.
Oxfam is a feature unlikely target, but his two years as the deputy director (1968-70) were not happy. There was resistance to his conviction of the necessity of an organizational change, and, ironically, in view of such charities’ later positions, that Oxfam should dedicate himself to the campaign for justice and to engage in a political debate, so as to alleviate poverty.
However, in 1971, Nick has found his second vocation. Without any previous experience, has been appointed director of social services for Ealing, west London. This was quite surprising, but then, three years later, he found, in Kent, a social services department whose size and scale to match his ambitions: he inherited 6,000 employees, serving a population of 1.5 million people.
His 11-year tenure transformed the department has created two of his lasting legacy. One was Britain’s first professional, favoring the regime. This has helped to shatter the belief that residential care was the only option for severely troubled young people. At the other end of the age range, Nick opened the way to an intensive, individual, nursing home for the elderly, who would not otherwise have languished in the hospital. When, in 1988, Sir Roy Griffiths published his investigation into the care of the community, which had completely revolutionized the social services, has said that his reforms were very much influenced by what he observed in Kent.
While Kent, Nick tried to restore to a former passion to obtain the presidency of the Sports Council, only to suffer the public humiliation of his appointment to be blocked by Denis Howell, the sports minister. Nick Kent, in 1985, for the execution of a project providing accommodation and sports facilities on the Isle of Dogs, east of London, which was then abandoned when its sponsors withdrew. For a year he has managed a small and now-defunct Aids Policy Unit (he contributed to founding the National Aids Trust). But, generally, the post-Kent years have been those of voluntary work: worked in various capacities for the church and volunteering as a prison chaplain of the 200 sex offenders, chaired the East Thames Housing Group (1993-98).
It has waited in vain for any offer that could really command his talent and energy. Against all the evidence of authorities, distrust of his unpredictability, has nurtured the belief that he could be offered the deanery of Canterbury. In 2005, however, has been awarded the Cross of Sant’agostino, a personal gift of the archbishop of Canterbury, for his service to the church.
Behind Nick’s showmanship – he gave parties for his staff, one of which was attended by the singer Marianne Faithfull – there was also an insecure man that has tried to reassure. He was someone who was concerned about the mark that he had made, in the world, even if it is a rare social services director, who can hope to leave much beyond an efficient department and a good reputation.
In 1955 he married Anne Bridgeman. He died last year, and he is survived by his three children, David, Caroline, and Maria, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and his brother, the writer and publisher Tom Stacey. His twin sister Jill, who died in 2005.
• Nicolas David Stacey, the priest and the social services director, born November 27, 1927, died 8 May 2017