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From the Director: David Laing: Mourning our Loss and Celebrating a Life Well Lived

david laing

We at the KLC were sad to announce the death of Mr David Laing CBE on 3 March 2024. At the same time we are glad to celebrate a life well lived.

David was one of three sons of Sir Kirby Laing (1916–2009), after whom the Kirby Laing Centre (KLC) is named. Sir Kirby Laing was in turn the son of Sir John Laing (1879–1978), a major figure in UK industry and in twentieth-century UK Christianity. At Sir Kirby’s memorial service at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, on 1 September 2009, the bidding was as follows:

We stand before God to give thanks for the life of Kirby Laing, undoubtedly one of the great industrialists and philanthropists of twentieth-century Britain. Together with his younger brother Maurice, Kirby led a relatively small Carlisle-based building company to become a household name and a major international construction and property company. This in itself might have seemed enough for one man’s lifetime, but alongside this Kirby established The Kirby Laing Foundation, endowing important academic posts, particularly in the fields of religion and of medicine, and generously supporting music and young disadvantaged people.

The significant legacy of this family continues and for years David was the chairman of the Kirby Laing Foundation (KLF), a friend and significant supporter of KLICE and then the KLC. My own post-doctoral work at the University of Gloucestershire was generously funded by the KLF, and years later, when I returned from Canada to take over from Jonathan Chaplin as Director of KLICE, I recall how good it was to meet up again with Elizabeth Harley (Administrator, KLF) and Simon Webley (Trustee, KLF) at the event in London marking Jonathan’s work. When the KLC became an independent charity, it was once again the very generous support of the KLF, with David as chair, that made this possible. In our work in public theology and ethics we proudly bear the name of Sir Kirby Laing.

David was born in Devon in 1945. He trained as an architect, became Master of the Worshipful Company of Paviors in 2006, served as High Sheriff of Northamptonshire in 2010–2011, Lord-Lieutenant of the county from 2014–2020 and was the first Pro-Chancellor of the University of Northampton from 2015–2024. He was actively involved with numerous local (first in Hertfordshire, then in Northamptonshire) and national charities, supporting them through his own foundation, the David Laing Foundation, and the Laing Family Trusts. He had a keen interest in literature, music, the wider arts and sport, and his charitable giving reflected this, along with a passion for historic buildings and encouraging the preservation of heritage crafts and skills … and his Christian faith. He was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2024 New Year’s Honours list for services to charity and philanthropy.

David became the chair of the Kirby Laing Foundation, and in my role as Director of KLICE and then of the KLC, I met David on a number of occasions. My sense was of a generous, thoughtful, compassionate man who listened carefully. He embodied a consultative style of leadership among his trustees. The KLC is a research centre and one should not underestimate the role the KLF has played in promoting Christian scholarship at the highest levels in the UK. There are now multiple chairs at British Universities endowed by the KLF, securing their continuity. KLF Chairs or Senior Lectureships exist at five UK universities: Cambridge, Oxford, Aberdeen, Gloucestershire and Edinburgh. Three of these have an explicit focus on the New Testament, one on the Old Testament (Oxford), and one on Reformation history (Edinburgh).

David and his trustees, I have learned, consulted with leading Christian scholars about how best to contribute to Christian scholarship in the UK, and these endowments and many other initiatives are the result, largely under David’s leadership. There are many of us academics out there who owe, at least in part, our academic careers to the KLF under David’s leadership.

David is survived by his wife Mary, his five children and eleven grandchildren, and will be especially missed by them, by his friends, by the KLC, and the many others to whom he made a real difference through his kindness, support and numerous charitable activities. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, children and wider family.


The story of John Laing and his descendants needs to be told afresh today. A number of books are in existence. There are, for example:


      • Roy Coad, Laing: The Biography of Sir John W. Laing, C.B.E. (1879–1978) (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979).

      • Godfrey Harrison, Life and Belief in the Experience of John W. Laing, C.B.E. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1954).

      • Berry Ritchie, The Good Builder: The John Laing Story (London: James & James, 1997). This is a marvellous, rich, coffee-table type book replete with photographs and illustrations.

      • Two short, accessible books by Deborah Helme: Sir Maurice Laing: A Life in Profile (2005) and Building to Share: The Story of John Laing (London: Religious and Moral Education Press, 1998). What intrigued me about the latter was how soon major characters like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Fred Catherwood – heroes of mine – enter the narrative.

    • Alex McIlhinney, The Service of Giving: Sir John Laing and his Trusts 1922–2022 (Darvel: Opal, 2022).
    (For a picture archive charting the Laing legacy, see also 

    Alas, all of these books, apart from The Service of Giving, are no longer in print or readily available. The KLC hopes to find a way to reprint some of them so that they are available for future generations. However, there is much more of great value to unearth about the Laing story, there are new books that wait to be written, and we are delighted that with the full support of the KLF and the Laing family, Dr Ian Randall, the Cambridge church historian and a Senior Research Fellow of the KLC, has just begun work on a biography of Sir Kirby Laing. We keenly anticipate what his research will unearth and look forward to launching this new biography in about three years’ time.

    Dr Ian Randall writes:

    A biography of Sir Kirby Laing will require research in several different areas since his involvements were varied. At the heart of everything he did was his Christian faith and I aim to bring that out in what I write. I am excited to be commissioned by the KLC to write about such an important figure, one who has not previously been the subject of a biography. The book will help to answer a question sometimes asked: Why the name Kirby Laing for the Centre? At the KLC we are grateful for the support of the KLF and the Laing family for this project. Although a certain amount of material on Sir Kirby is in the public domain – such as newspaper reports – there is much that will need to be discovered from other sources, for example, from those who knew Sir Kirby. Having written books of this kind before, I look forward to treasures I anticipate will be mined. If anyone reading this has memories of Sir Kirby or can direct me to where I might find material, I would be very grateful.

    Contact Ian at ian.m.randall@gmail.com.