John Stott's Right Hand: Frances Whitehead remembered

Frances Whitehead with John Stott, whom she faithfully served for 55 years

Frances Whitehead died peacefully at her home in Bourne End on 1 June, at the age of 94. Her friend Julia Cameron reflects on her life and work with the late John Stott. 

Frances Whitehead's name will find its place in the history books as John Stott's secretary. Her modest job title did not reflect the crucial role she held. On a human level she enabled Stott to achieve what he achieved. The extent and effectiveness of John Stott's ministry was massive, and he would be named by TIME magazine in 2005 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Both Frances and he came from privileged backgrounds, but they served with humility. They were frugal and unpretentious, focused and exacting: a team of two, later joined by a study assistant.

After the war, Frances spent a few years abroad, then returned in 1951 and took a job with the BBC. It was in her years with the BBC that she gave her life to Christ. She wandered into a lunchtime service at St Peter's, Vere Street when John Stott was preaching, and then started to go regularly to All Souls. Three years after her conversion, and knowing very little about the evangelical world, she made an appointment with the Rector to explore with him the idea of training for overseas mission. Sensing her good mind (she had done secret war work as a mathematician), he invited her instead to become his secretary.

It was Frances's arrival on the All Souls staff which first enabled John, then Rector of All Souls, to accept invitations to travel. John Stott's natural way of working was to build friendships, and to keep in touch. This relied on Frances handling a huge correspondence, over his name or hers. She worked fast, typed fast, and was known as a person who got things done.

As his wider networks grew, Anglican and interdenominational, independent and intersecting, John became 'Uncle John' around the world, and Frances became 'Auntie Frances'. Through her correspondence, she got to know people on all continents and would give a warm welcome to those passing through London. She had a genuine care for people. At All Souls she led a Beginners' group, and also served on the missionary committee.

Frances Whitehead at her desk in Weymouth Street

As well as managing John Stott's travel, and being the lynchpin for his networks, Frances typed all his books from longhand. She and John would relocate the office to The Hookses, Stott's writing retreat in Pembrokeshire, for a focused block of time each year, and invite friends to join them.

Frances's name would soon be well-known the world over as John Stott's gatekeeper; she was tigerish in ensuring that his time was protected, and she could, in the words of one of Stott's US study assistants, "intimidate the socks off any pushy American."

In recognition of her unique service, Archbishop George Carey conferred on her a Lambeth MA in 2001. This is regarded as an earned degree.

It was said that Frances knew Stott's mind better than anyone. As well as being partners in ministry, they were friends. Frances was at John's bedside with his close family when he died, and she was Executor of his Will. At his request, she gave the opening tribute at his Memorial Service in St Paul's Cathedral in 2012.

An updated edition of Frances Whitehead's authorized biography John Stott's Right Hand by Julia Cameron will be released in October. It was a story John Stott himself hoped would one day be told.

A thanksgiving service for her life and ministry will be held in All Souls Church, Langham Place, London W1 on June 21 at 2pm.