Tributes paid to the Rev Tom Heffer, former chaplain to the Bishop of Norwich

A funeral service in Norwich Cathedral this week will honour a well-travelled clergyman with a 'gift for friendship', who served as a chaplain to two successive Bishops of Norwich.

The Rev Tom Heffer lost consciousness while driving to work on April 17 after suffering a cardiac arrest, and died at the Royal Free Hospital in London on April 23 at the age of 43.

He was a former curate in Sprowston and also worked as chaplain to Bishop Graham James and his predecessor Bishop Peter Nott.

After leaving the Diocese of Norwich in 2001, Mr Heffer served with the Mission to Seafarers, becoming secretary general in 2009.

Bishop Graham said: 'Tom Heffer was my first chaplain here, happily inherited from my predecessor. Although we only worked together for a year before he went to the Mission to Seafarers I got to know him well and have remained in touch.

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'He had a gift for friendship and was the sort of priest whom people instinctively loved. His zest for life, love for God and his family, and his service to the seafaring community were all evident when you met Tom. His early death is a huge loss not only to Roz, his widow, and Abi, their daughter, but to all who knew him.'

Mr Heffer was born in Luton and studied theology at King's College in London before volunteering as a chaplain's assistant for the Mission to Seafarers. The job took him to the US port of New Orleans and he also spent a year in Singapore, where he met his future wife Roz, who was teaching English in a Chinese school.

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Mrs Heffer, 56, said: 'I was looking for a residency in Australia, but he wanted to come home and I knew I couldn't let him go.

'Tom was warm and humorous. He had a great gift for making people feel at ease and comfortable, and he was just the same whether he was talking to someone on the street or to Princess Anne. He was the same for everybody.'

Mr Heffer undertook his religious training at Ripon College near Oxford, but also worked as a bus driver in Aylesbury before becoming curate in Sprowston.

'He loved driving buses, and people would instantly warm to him,' said Mrs Heffer. 'We also had really fond memories of Norfolk which is why we are bringing him back to Norwich. He had a huge affection for Norfolk and Norwich and would have liked to retire here. His 'lottery dream' was to come back here, and he had planned it all.'

Mr Heffer lived in the Bedfordshire village of Eaton Bray with his wife and their 17-year-old daughter Abi.

The funeral will take place in Norwich Cathedral at 1pm on Wednesday, and all are welcome. Mr Heffer will then be buried in his former parish of Sprowston.

The family has requested no flowers, but invited donations to the British Heart Foundation, the Mission to Seafarers, or the Royal Free Charity at the hospital which provided intensive care treatment to Mr Heffer for a week before his death.

'The cause of the seafarers was very dear to him, but we also have a huge debt of gratitude to the Royal Free Hospital,' said Mrs Heffer.

Cheques for charity donations can be sent to S R Dillamore Ltd, 16 Old Road, Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, Beds, LU7 2RF. Telephone 01525 372210.

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