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Obituary: Lord St John of Fawsley (1929 – 2012)

The former Conservative Cabinet Minister and chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission has died at the age of 82

Born in 1929 Norman Anthony Francis St John-Stevas, was the only son of engineer, Stephen Stevas, and his wife, Kitty St John O’Connor.

He began his education at Ratcliffe College, near Leicester, and following this spent six months in Rome studying to become a Catholic priest. He later returned to Britain, where he trained as a Barrister at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and Christ Church, Oxford.

He never practiced law, but instead taught at Yale, Southhampton University, King’s College, London, and Oxford.

Norman began his political career in 1967, as MP for Chelmsford, after having contested the seat for Dagenham in 1951.

As Norman St John-Stevas, he served as Education and Arts Minister under Edward Heath and as Leader of the House of Commons in Margaret Thatcher’s first cabinet, until she sacked him in 1981. He could often be heard referring to the prime minister as ‘the leaderene’ or ‘she who must be obeyed’.

He joined the House of Lords in 1987, as Lord St John of Fawsley.

His friend and colleague Michael Heseltine called him ‘a one-off, a very unusual character, combining intellect, academic abilities with the realities of politics’.

St John-Stevas also had an interest in literature. He wrote for The Economist, edited an edition of works by the Victorian constitutionalist Walter Bagehot, and chaired the Booker Prize judging panel.

He was appointed chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission from 1985 to 1999. The Georgian Group expressed their views on his death: ‘Sad to learn of the death of Lord St John of Fawsley last chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission and on our council’.

St John-Stevas was Master of Emmanuel College Cambridge between 1991 and 1996, where he oversaw the refurbishment of the Master’s Lodge and a new extension to the college.

Ken Shuttleworth, of Make, described St John-Stevas as ‘a wonderful English eccentric and always a great supporter of modern architecture’.

St John-Stevas of Fawsley died at his home in London on Friday after a short illness.

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