Bill Ford Biography
- Created: 21 October 2015 21 October 2015
Bill Ford was born in Aston, Birmingham, UK on 23 June 1911. His father was a steelworker and his mother was a housewife. He was the eldest of three children, with two sisters, Lydia and
Elizabeth. The family struggled to cope, living in a terrace house with only one income, and Bill
hardly saw his father, who was working all the hours he could.
Bill's mother wanted her children to be raised Roman Catholic, and made sure he went to Mass. The house was near a friary, and one of the brothers took a special interest in Bill, who was clearly a bright boy. This anonymous friar encouraged Bill in his studies, teaching him to apply himself, and when Bill's friend Podger took an exam, Bill did too.
The exam turned out to be for a scholarship to Cotton College, the local grammar school. Bill got the placement, and suddenly found he had a new future in front of him. Aged 11, he decided to become a priest and change others' lives for the better.
He studied hard and gained a second scholarship: this time, to University in Rome. A keen cyclist and runner during his time at Cotton, he set a record for the cross-country mile that stood for 26 years.
Rome was a whole new world and he threw himself into his studies, learning Greek and Hebrew alongside the Latin he knew from his time at Cotton. He continued his sporting prowess at University by hiking across hills and mountains with his friends.
As well as completing a seven-year degree which included philosophy and child education, Bill enjoyed learning a number of languages, including Italian, Spanish and French. He graduated in October 1936 and was ordained in December that year.
However, the climate and his relentless determination to succeed had taken a toll on his health. Not long after his return from Italy, he went into a sanitorium, having contracted tuberculosis. Lung operations left him physically damaged and unable to continue as an athlete.
As a cleric, he remained a curate for over forty years, firstly in Caversham and later in Peppard. He was highly regarded for his intellect, pithy preaching and obvious devotion to his parishioners.
During this time, he saw an increasing need for a parish in Sonning Common. He pursued this cause until he was given permission to set up a new parish and build a church. This he duly did, overseeing the work largely on his own. In 1955, Bill was introduced to Joan Ash, a speech therapist who helped him with fundraising and who made an immediate impression on him.
Since he was in another part of the country, Bill mostly kept in touch with loved ones in Birmingham through letters and phone calls. His father suffered an injury at work, and was laid off: his mother went into a nursing home. Bill treasured friendships with the likes of Podger, his friend from school, and other priests he knew.
Having successfully set up a church and parish, Bill continued his quest for innovation, seeking to run services in English as well as Latin and use lay parishioners in ministry. He held high hopes for the Second Vatican Council, seeing it as an opportunity for reform. It was not to be as he had hoped.
Like other priests he knew, Bill became disillusioned. He sought advice and was initially persuaded to stay, but in the end he obeyed his conscience. He left in 1968, marrying Joan Ash that same year. His father never saw the church his son had built.
Life was now very different. Newly married, the Fords became house wardens for former psychiatric patients, working for the Richmond Fellowship in London and Oxford. Bill later worked at Kidlington Airport, where he happily sang Psalms n the hangars and became the unofficial chaplain. He moved on to document control, mastering computers as he had mastered foreign languages.
Bill joined the Advent Group and campaigned as a member of the Movement for the Ordination of Married Men. At one point, he addressed a gathering that included two future cardinals.
By now, he was the father of a young boy and, after retiring from paid work, volunteered for New Blackfriars Magazine, Age Concern and the Nor Lye News, a local newsletter.
Despite continued health problems, Bill lived a full life into his 80s, questioning his faith along the way but remaining true to the end. On the night of 25 February 1996, he joyfully praised God, saying, "Jesus is MY Lord: Jesus is MY Saviour, and when I die I will be with Him." He passed away peacefully the next morning.
The funeral at Blackfriars in Oxford was standing room only, packed with hundreds of family members, friends, neighbours, former colleagues and well-wishers. His close family remember his welcoming smile, his strong hugs, his lively wit and, above all, his sincere quest for the Truth. Decades later, he is very much missed.
Michael Ford (Bill's son), 21.10.2015