Estelle White

ESTELLE WHITE, who has died aged 85, wrote more than 160 hymns, including one for inclusion in the Methodist hymn book, and she collaborated in the BBC Come and Praise hymn book.

Settling in Dewsbury in the early 1980s, she was director of the St Joseph’s church choir from Christmas 1984 until Christmas 1991.

Elizabeth Estelle White was born and brought up on Tyneside in a family which, despite not being able to read music, all played musical instruments. She played the piano, guitar, clarinet and tenor saxophone.

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At 17, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and when the base she was stationed at was entertained by a visiting band, it just happened that the lead saxophonist became ill.

Being at the right place at the right time, Estelle was drafted in to replace her, performing the very same day.

She played with the HQ band on many ceremonial occasions, including football internationals and the 1946 Victory Parade. She was also a member of the ATS strict tempo dance band and travelled extensively, entertaining the troops in the Central Mediterranean Force in Palestine and Egypt. Echoes of her affection for Duke Ellington and Count Basie can be heard in her music.

On leaving the Army, she trained as a physiotherapist, working in hospitals in the North East and with the People’s Theatre in Newcastle where she acted, directed, painted scenery and composed.

Estelle then went to Canada, setting up a department in Cornwall Hospital, Ontario, for children with cerebral palsy which became a benchmark across the state.

While she was in Canada, she was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Returning to England and the North East, in 1965 she joined the Congregation of Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters taking temporary vows, and after her novitiate, she specialised in music at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton, qualifying as a teacher of theology and music.

Estelle left the order owing to ill health and spent her time teaching in various Roman Catholic secondary schools in the North of England until her retirement. She even turned her hand to journalism, writing for the Guardian women’s page and women’s magazines.

Estelle continued to study Hebrew and Greek in retirement and in 1989 was awarded an MA with Distinction from Leeds University. To her family, she was a fun, feisty figure, and to the younger members of the family always exotic, sweeping into the house from her peacock blue sports car brandishing a long cigarette holder and enveloped in a cloud of Chanel No.5.

Estelle did not appear in the same glamorous way when she came to live in the parish of St Joseph, Dewsbury, but she always took care to look smart.

The congregation realised that they had an outstanding musician in their midst and Fr Michael Ingwell, the parish priest at the time, persuaded her to take on the role of director of the church’s choir. The church gained much from her leadership throughout the seven years she was at the helm; members described her contribution as a “masterclass in music”.

A highlight of her leadership at St Joseph came in 1989 when she directed the music at the ordination, by Bishop David Konstant, of Father Barrie Senior; a performance that was professionally recorded.