He established Samaritans in 1953 after being given the London parish of St Stephen Walbrook, which had a small congregation and thus left him considerable free time to carry out counselling work. He was so inundated with requests for help that he enlisted some of his congregation to help, establishing a free-standing voluntary organisation in 1954.
He then took a back seat as the organisation grew into its current form, encompassing 202 branches across the British Isles, but continued his association with it for the rest of his life.
Dominic Rudd, chief executive of Samaritans, described Varah as “an extraordinary man”. He said: “His legacy is a strengthened Samaritans that seeks to make emotional health part of everyday conversation. We have some way to go before we achieve that – in the meantime, Samaritans believes that offering people the opportunity to be listened to in confidence, and accepted without prejudice, can alleviate despair and suicidal feelings.”
Varah also championed sex education and was patron of sexual health charity the Terence Higgins Trust between 1987 and 1999.
Between 1950 and 1961 he worked as a scriptwriter for children’s comics Girl and Eagle, working on such characters as ‘pilot of the future’ Dan Dare.
Steve Evans, chair of Samaritans, said: “It is our honour and determination to carry on his extraordinary work in the way he would have liked.”