A FORMER minister of a Southampton city centre church, who served as a pillar of the community for 20 years, has died.

Grandfather-of-five the Rev John Knopf died after years battling ill health from a condition which leads to paralysis.

He was minister of the Edmund Kell Unitarian Church in Bellevue Road from 1978 until he was struck down with illness in 1998.

His son Hugh described him as a “human Google” and said that he was a very inspiring man for many in the community.

John and his wife Brenda moved to Southampton in 1971 when he was working for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, teaching pilots in Hamble.

He became a minister in 1976.

Brenda said: “He felt he could do good by being a minister. He felt he could support the Unitarian movement and by caring for people. He had a wonderful mind, he was interested in everything.”

Hugh said: “He worked incredibly hard to try to make sense of a very difficult passion – he had a very healthy scepticism and doubt.

“I think he suffered and delighted in that struggle.

“I can’t tell you how hard he worked on a Saturday evening when he was preparing his sermon. He literally sweated with the effort of thinking what he was going to say.”

He added that John was “an incredible storyteller with a great sense of humour”.

He eventually stepped down as minister after contracting Guillain-Barré syndrome in the late 1990s, which severely affected his mobility. After years struggling from poor health, the 84-year old died after suffering from a short illness at his home in Church Lane, Highfield.

Born in 1930 in St Albans, he died on March 12, leaving Brenda, 82, Hugh, 52, and his daughter, Mary, 50, and five grandchildren.

Close friends and family will be attending his funeral on Friday, April 17, at Wessex Vale Crematorium, Bubb Lane, Hedge End, at 11.30am.

Members of the community are invited to his memorial service at the Edmund Kell Unitarian Church on Saturday, April 18, at 2pm.

Family flowers only, donations to the Monday Lunch Club at Edmund Kell Unitarian Church.