Tributes after the death of a 'gentle giant' from Rugby who improved the lives of thousands

Canon professor Richard Farnell, right, with the Rt Revd Colin Bennets, former Bishop of Coventry.
Canon professor Richard Farnell, right, with the Rt Revd Colin Bennets, former Bishop of Coventry.

A well-known Rugbeian who served as an adviser to the government and contributed much to his community has died at 71.

Canon professor Richard Farnell was known as, ‘the tall bloke with the big smile’ and his extensive volunteer work has been said to have benefitted thousands.

His wife, Alison Farnell said: “He will be remembered by many in Rugby and Coventry as ‘a gentle giant’ or ‘the tall bloke with the huge smile’ because of his warm, gentle nature and his generous friendship.”

The father-of-three and grandfather-of-seven moved to Rugby 45 years ago with his wife, Alison, when he was an assistant principal planner in Coventry.

He later joined the staff of the then Lanchester Polytechnic teaching Urban and Regional Planning.

When the polytechnic evolved to become Coventry University, Richard continued teaching and researching into urban and regional development, housing related issues and community cohesion.

Mrs Farnell said: “He was intensely proud of the achievements of his former students and many continued as longstanding friends.”

A key focus of his academic research was the contribution made by faith groups to community development.

At various times, he was appointed as an adviser to the government, the Charity Commission and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

In 2006 Richard was appointed professor of neighbourhood regeneration at Coventry University. In the same year, he was also invited to become canon theologian at Coventry Cathedral.

Among a raft of other services to the community, he volunteered for various housing associations over 30 years, leading Tom Murtha, the former chief executive of Midland Heart Housing Association, to say: “Literally thousands of people are living better lives in the Midlands and elsewhere because of his work.”

Richard and his family were members of St Matthew’s and St Oswald’s, and Overslade Church.

He helped lead the youth group there in the 1970s, was church warden for several years and regularly led Sunday services.

In spring 2018 Richard became seriously ill with a recurrence of cancer which proved not to be treatable. He died on Sunday, September 23. There will be a Service of thanksgiving in Coventry Cathedral at 4pm on Sunday, October 21.