John Kenneth Isaacs

Category: Obituaries of OTs

John Isaacs died peacefully with faith unwavering in Addenbrooke's Hospital on 11 September 2017.  He was aged 81.

John was born on 23 July 1936 in Teynham, Kent to Dr Kenneth Isaacs and Gladys Isaacs (née Jones).  He grew up in Southborough with his younger brother David and, after attending Yardley Court, was at Tonbridge School (Welldon House) from 1949 to 1955.  In 1967, John returned to the School Chapel to marry Phillis Jane Bird, also from Tonbridge.

During John's National Service, he was seconded to the East African Rifles and, on his return in 1957 went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge where he gained a Masters Degree in English and Theology.  This was followed by a year in Sikkim (North East India), where he was Companion to the Prince and helped with Tibetan refugees.

In 1961 he joined the renowned lute-maker, Ian Harwood in Ely, Cambridgeshire and for the next 10 years the firm of Ian Harwood & John Isaacs specialised in the construction of early plucked instruments.  It was during this period that much of the research was done into early instruments, their manufacture and music, and adapting an ancient craft to modern production methods.  When Ian Harwood left the partnership, John continued to produce lutes and the firm had a world-wide market and reputation.  During this time John also lectured in Early Fretted Instruments at the London College of Furniture, Department of Musical Instrument Technology and was recognised in Who's Who for his contribution to early music.  Later in his career, the lute rose provided John with the inspiration for a new jewellery business, Kithara Jewellery, which involved pioneering work in the use of photo etching in silver.

John was also an accomplished musician and played the viol professionally with various Consorts.  With The Jaye Consort of Viols, his work included numerous concert tours, broadcasts and recordings as well as research into early music and performance techniques.  In addition, John taught the flute, clarinet and recorder and would play as part of an ensemble at concerts.

In 1983, John was ordained Priest and his first position was Chaplain at King's Ely where for 10 years he reinvigorated the spiritual life of the school with his enthusiasm, wisdom and faith.  During this time, he was also appointed a Minor Canon of Ely Cathedral and took services at Ely parish churches.  This was followed by ten enjoyable years as Priest in Charge of four rural Norfolk parishes, and later he went on to become Dean's Vicar of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and Chaplain to the Diocesan Mothers' Union.

John spent his lifetime highly respected by colleagues and friends and this was reflected at his Service of Thanksgiving in Ely Cathedral where several hundred people came to celebrate and remember an inspirational and spiritual man.  His gentle kindness, quick wit and knowledge will be greatly missed by all who knew him and particularly by his wife, Philly Jane, their daughter, Rebecca, son-in-law, David, and two granddaughters, Serena and Elysia.

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