The Rev Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, died in Basingstoke, Hants on Thursday at the age of 95. Born in Barton-upon-Humber, where his father was the Anglican vicar, Chad Varah was educated at Oxford before, he also became an Anglican clergyman. His first job, as an assistant curate in Lincoln in 1935, determined the path the rest of his life would take. Conducting the funeral of a 14-year-old girl, he asked the undertaker why the girl was being buried in unconsecrated ground, and was told she had killed herself because she had mistaken menstruation for a serious disease. After he became vicar of St Paul's, at Clapham, south London, he realised that a significant number of people coming to see him were talking about committing suicide. He thought a special telephone line might help people in distress. The idea of a help line became a reality when he became rector of St Stephen Walbrook, a church in the City of London whose only parishioner was the Lord Mayor. The Samaritans grew rapidly. Starting with just one telephone and a handful of volunteers, his group of "active listeners" now has 202 branches in the UK and Ireland, with about 15,500 volunteers. Dr Varah retired from the Samaritans in 1986. His wife, Susan, who died in 1993, was a president of the Mothers' Union. He is survived by four of his five children. Alongside his clerical duties Chad Varah wrote plays and strip cartoons for Eagle and Girl comics and was the scientific consultant for the Eagle hero, Dan Dare. The Prince of Wales, who is patron of the Samaritans, paid tribute, saying: "Chad Varah was an utterly remarkable man who founded an organisation which has saved the lives of countless people since 1953. He was an outstanding humanitarian and a great Briton." The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "Chad Varah made a unique contribution to the life of our whole society, changing attitudes to suicide and bringing a distinctively pastoral and wholly non-judgmental approach to people in need." Source: The Samaritans
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