13:46, November 15 360 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-15 13:46:02
Other lives  The Rev David Haggan obituary

My father-in-law, David Haggan, who has died aged 91, was born into a modest Belfast background but liked to say that he had a privileged childhood.

Growing up with two brothers and two sisters in Northern Ireland in the 1930s had something of the Famous Five about it: he got to shunt steam trains in the marshalling yard at the bottom of the road, courtesy of a relative who worked there. His parents, William, an office manager in a linen mill, and his wife, Essie (nee Neill), though Baptist and teetotal, were both remarkably laid back and unfazed when their children disappeared on new adventures.

In nearby Donaghadee harbour the boys earned a few pence by helping with the boats and in return were able to take a small dinghy loaded with a tent, a cousin or two, and sausages for a campfire out to the Mew and Copeland Islands. There the lighthouse-keepers welcomed them ashore, happy to hand them the tiresome duty of rewinding the lighthouse mechanism every 20 minutes.

As an air cadet David trained at Newtownards, where the Marquess of Londonderry kept his Tiger Moth. Seeing it parked on the grass, David’s friends bet him sixpence he would not dare to ask the marquess for a ride in the plane; he did so and was whisked up into the clouds by the aristocrat. Showing off by looping the loop, the marquess stalled the engine midway, uttered a rude word, but landed safely.

Soon, after leaving the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, David enlisted with the RAF. In 1945 he crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Aquitania for fighter pilot training in Oklahoma. The second world war was ending by the time he returned, but he stayed on in the Reserve, continuing to fly.

RAF entry helped David secure a place at university, first at St Andrews and then at Queen’s in Belfast. He trained as a lawyer and in 1950 married Hope Hitchins, a secretary, whom he had met at Capernwray Hall, a Christian bible study centre in Lancashire.

During the 1960s he rose to be assistant chief crown solicitor for Northern Ireland. Unassuming, affable and unflappable, he was at ease in all company and knew the best way to keep up with events was not always through briefings and papers but by a word with the ministerial driver or the man who ran the car park. Knowing everyone helped in his role as barrister in the attorney general’s office in London, advising on Northern Ireland affairs.

Rather than retire, David switched to working for the Church of England. He was ordained at Southwark Cathedral in 1990 and as a non-stipendiary minister took charge of the Heath Church in Reigate, Surrey. For 20 years he and Hope took on various short-term chaplaincies abroad, until, in 2014, they moved to live in the College of St Barnabas at Lingfield, a residential community of retired Anglican clergy.

David is survived by Hope, their children, Lindsey and Nicholas, and a grandson, Marcus.