The Very Rev. Dr. Robert Willis, KStJ, DL

Robert Willis was ordained Deacon in 1972 and priest in 1973.  He served as Curate to St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury from 1972-75 and as Vicar Choral of Salisbury Cathedral from 1975-78.  He was Rector of Tisbury in the Diocese of Salisbury from 1978-87 and Vicar of Sherborne Abbey 1987-1992.

In 1992 he was made Dean of Hereford, a position he held until his appointment as Dean of Canterbury in 2001.  He was Dean of Canterbury until 2022 and at the same time Chairman of Governors of the King’s School Canterbury.  From 1985-2015 he was a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and from 1999-2015 he was Chairman of the Conference of Deans of the English Cathedrals.

As Dean of Canterbury he welcomed pilgrims from all over the world (Canterbury is one of the main sites for English pilgrims on the Camino and the start of the Via Francigena to Rome) and developed the life of the Cathedral Lodge as a place where pilgrims and visitors could stay and he and Fletcher used their historic and spacious home, “the Deanery”, and its garden as a place of welcome and constant hospitality.

Dean Robert is a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Kent.  He was awarded the Cross of St Augustine by Archbishop Rowan Williams for services to the Anglican Communion.  He received an honorary doctorate of Divinity from Yale University in 2009 and Doctorate of Civil Law from the University of Kent in 2011.  He is an accomplished musician and hymn writer and has been made a Fellow of the School of Church Music and an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Dean Robert has worked tirelessly for many charities including the Parkinson’s Society, Porchlight, St John Ambulance, the Pilgrims Hospices, Food Bank, the Canterbury Festival and numerous others.

During the Covid 19 pandemic, he and his partner Fletcher broadcast Morning Prayer daily from the Deanery garden without a day’s break for 26months and attracted a huge audience from across the world of all faiths and none, who styled themselves “The Garden Congregation”.  The ministry which supports the broadcasts still continues to this day.

During their time in Canterbury, Dean Robert and Fletcher oversaw the largest expansion of the creative departments and the most extensive restoration project the cathedral had seen in centuries and raised the funds needed to accomplish this (£65m for the main project alone).

For services to the Community and City of Canterbury Dean Robert was awarded the rare honour of being made a Freeman of the City of Canterbury in 2008.  In 2023 the Archbishop conferred upon him the title of Dean Emeritus of Canterbury.