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Chad Varah
Born November 12, 1911(1911-11-12)
Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, UK
Died November 8, 2007 (aged 95)
Basingstoke, Hampshire, England
Occupation Founder of The Samaritans

Edward Chad Varah, CH, CBE (12 November 1911[1] – 8 November 2007) was a British Anglican priest. He is best remembered as the founder of The Samaritans (now known just as 'Samaritans'), established in 1953 as the world's first crisis hotline organisation, offering non-religious telephone support to those contemplating suicide.



Varah was born in the town of Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, the eldest of nine children of the vicar at the Anglican church of St Peter. His father, Canon William Edward Varah, a strict Tractarian, named him after St Chad, who, according to Bede, had founded the seventh century monastery 'ad Bearum', 'at Barrow', which may have occupied an Anglo-Saxon enclosure next to Barton Vicarage. He was educated at Worksop College in north Nottinghamshire and won an exhibition to read natural sciences at Keble College, Oxford University, quickly switching to Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He was involved in the university Russian and Slavonic clubs, and was founder-president of the Scandinavian Club. He graduated with a third-class degree in 1933.

Clerical career

He was a professor, but his godfather persuaded him to study at Lincoln Theological College, where he was taught by Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury. He was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1935 and as a priest in 1936. He first served as curate at St Giles, Lincoln from 1935 to 1938, then St Mary's, Putney from 1938 to 1940, and finally at Barrow-in-Furness from 1940 to 1942. He became vicar of Holy Trinity, Blackburn in 1942, and moved to St Paul, Clapham Junction in 1949. He was also chaplain of St John's Hospital, Battersea.

The Grocers' Company offered him the living of St Stephen Walbrook in 1953. He became rector of the church, designed by Christopher Wren, adjacent to the Mansion House in the City of London. The church was closed for structural repairs from 1978 to 1987. His son, Andrew, built chairs to replace its pews. Great controversy followed the installation of a large circular altar in travertine marble by Henry Moore, commissioned by Varah and his churchwarden Lord Palumbo. The matter was finally settled by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved in 1987, which granted a retrospective faculty for its installation.[2]. He was also a supporter of women priests, but preferred the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the absence of a permanent congregation, the church remained popular for weddings. He officiated at the marriage of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, only daughter of Princess Margaret to the actor Daniel Chatto in 1994.

He was made an Honorary Prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral in 1975, becoming Senior Prebendary in 1997. He retired in 2003, aged 92, by which time he was the oldest incumbent in the Church of England.


Varah began to understand the problems facing the suicidal when he was taking a funeral as an assistant curate in 1935, his first church service, at St Peter-in-Eastgate church in Lincoln, for a thirteen year old girl who died by suicide because she had begun to menstruate and feared that she had a sexually transmitted disease.[3] He later said "Little girl, I didn't know you, but you have changed the rest of my life for good." He vowed at that time to encourage sex education, and to help people who were contemplating suicide and had nowhere to turn.

To that end, Chad Varah founded The Samaritans in 1953 in the crypt of his church, with the stated aim that it would be an organisation "to befriend the suicidal and despairing." The phone line, MAN 9000 (for MANsion House), received its first call on 2 November 1953, and the number of calls increased substantially after publicity in the Daily Mirror on 7 December 1953.

He was director of the central London branch of Samaritans until 1974, and president from 1974 to 1986. He was also founder chairman of Befrienders International (Samaritans Worldwide) from 1974 to 1983, and then its president from 1983 to 1986.

Other works

He was also closely associated with the founding of the comic The Eagle by fellow clergyman Marcus Morris in 1950. He supplemented his income by working as a scriptwriter for The Eagle and its sister publications Girl, Robin and Swift until 1961. He used his scientific education to be "Scientific and Astronautical Consultant" (as Varah put it) to Dan Dare. More controversially, but in line with a long-standing commitment to sex education, he was for the better part of three decades a member of the board of reference of the British edition of the adult magazine Forum from 1967 to 1987. He was patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust from 1987 to 1999 and an original patron of the Cult Information Centre.[4]

He wrote a television play, Nobody Understands Miranda, which was broadcast by the BBC as part of a six-part series about the Samaritans in 1972.

He continued his campaigning work into later life, founding Men against Genital Mutilation of Girls (MAGMOG) in 1992, and also publishing his autobiography, Before I Die Again, referring to his belief in reincarnation, the same year.

He was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal in 1972, and became an Honorary Fellow of Keble College in 1981. He also held several honorary doctorates, and was awarded the Romanian Patriarchal Cross. He was appointed OBE in 1969, and advanced to CBE in 1995. He was created a Companion of Honour (CH) in 2000.

Chad Varah married Susan Whanslaw in 1940 in Wandsworth, south London. They had four sons (including triplets) and a daughter. His wife became World President of the Mothers' Union in the 1970s. She died in 1993. Varah died in a hospital in Basingstoke. He was survived by four of his children, his son Michael Varah having died earlier in 2007.


  • Before I Die Again: The Autobiography of the Founder of Samaritans. (London: Constable, 1992).
  • The Samaritans in the 80s. (London: Constable, 1980).


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births December 1911 7a 1282 Glanford B. - Edward C. Varah
  2. ^ [1987] Fam 146, [1987] 2 All ER 578
  3. ^ Samaritans History
  4. ^ Cult Information Centre - Home Page

External links



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