Obituary: Maître Chris Penney

Chris started to fence in his teens in the late 1960s at Stockport Sword Club under Bernard Popland and Adrian Kellett and quickly found that he had not only a great interest in the sport but also a natural flair, and the club asked him to teach other pupils. He competed in County and National competitions amassing a number of gold, silver and bronze medals. On leaving school he went to the University of Wales at Wrexham where his main subject was Physical Education, concentrating on Gymnastics, Outdoor pursuits in addition to sailing, mountain climbing and all standard sports and qualified as a PE teacher. Fencing went on temporary hold whilst at college, but he developed an interest in martial arts and soon became leader of the college Küng Foo Club. In his final year at university Chris became a committed Christian and his faith had a profound influence upon his career.

After university Chris found a position on a project with a civil engineering firm in Wales. On completion of that project, during which he did not fence, he decided on a change and moved to Kent where he chose to take up his grandfather’s profession of a medical herbalist. He completed his qualification and practised for more than a decade at clinics in Kent and London. Following his moving to Kent he resumed his fencing. By the mid-1980s, however, he felt the need to change his path again, and having been fencing at Gravesham Fencing Club started to coach there. Further coaching appointments followed: in schools in Kent and Sussex, which comprised a wide variety – prep, independent, both day and boarding, as well as maintained schools – and at Salle Paul where he worked with Peter Frolich and the Olympic team, which he enjoyed very much, and took his international diploma in Sabre in 1999, one of his proudest fencing achievements. During this time he produced many successful fencers in National Youth Championships and the Public Schools Championships, several of whom were medallists and three were National Champions. He also opened his own Clubs variously in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. During this time Chris served the wider fencing community by becoming a committee member of the BAF and was a Regional Coach Educator operating in the South East Region.

Throughout his life his faith had been strong, and he first felt the call to ministry in his twenties. He was active in churches in the Church of England wherever he lived and in the 1990s explored the possibility of ordination, and just into the new millennium undertook training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. This was fulfilling but generated some doubts about some of the CoE’s ontology and as a consequence he did not become ordained in the Church of England.  However, he preached and ministered at many churches and gradually becoming more comfortable amongst the Baptists became a member of Tonbridge Baptist Church. This led to him being appointed Minister to the Baptist Church in Eynsford, Kent, in 2011, a fulfilment of his long felt calling.

As his commitment to the church increased Chris reduced his coaching load, and by the time of moving to Eynsford was only coaching at Tonbridge School, where he latterly surprised the club by arriving in a Caterham 7, in which there was hardly enough room for both himself and his kit! A little while after an operation for a heart condition he considered that retirement was a wise step, and moved to a cottage in north Wales which he had been renovating for some years and joined the Baptist community in the area. He had been there only a short time when pancreatic cancer was diagnosed.

He met his wife, Abigail, at university. She survives him.

Maître Chris Penney