Woollcombe was born in Sutton, where his father, the Reverend Edward Woollcombe, was rector. He was educated at Haileybury, and served in the RNVR in the Second World War, being commissioned in the engineering branch in 1945 and confirmed in the rank of sub-lieutenant in 1946. He served on several minesweepers. He read theology at St John's College, Oxford from 1948. He won an exhibition, a scholarship, and the Ellerton Prize, but only achieved a 2:1. He married Gwendolyn Hodges in 1950. They had three daughters. He studied for ordination at Westcott House in Cambridge, and spent two years as a curate at St James, Grimsby, before returning to St John's College in 1955, combining the roles of Fellow, Chaplain and Lecturer. He contributed to a book, The Historic Episcopate, in 1954 and published Essays on Typology with Geoffrey Lampe, his predecessor as chaplain, in 1957.
Scholar and bishop
Woollcombe was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York from 1960 to 1963, and then became principal of Coates Hall, the theological college of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, and a canon of Edinburgh Cathedral. He became Bishop of Oxford in 1971, succeeding Bishop Harry Carpenter. He supported rapprochement with the Methodist Church, and became well known as a committed advocate of the ordination of women as full priests within the Church. He was chairman of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) from 1973 to 1979, and a delegate to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Nairobi, later joining the central committee of the WCC. He was mentioned as a possible Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he found his position a strain, and suffered from poor health. His first wife died of cancer in 1976, and he resigned as Bishop of Oxford in 1978. He moved to London to become an assistant bishop to the Bishop of London, Gerald Ellison. He remarried in 1980, to Juliet Dearmer (granddaughter of Canon Percy Dearmer) who had become a deaconess in 1977. They had one daughter.
He declined the positions of Provost of Coventry Cathedral and Bishop of Worcester, deciding to serve as canon precentor at St Paul's Cathedral instead, an office that he held until he retired in 1989. He was committed to ecumenism, serving as a member of the Churches Council for Covenanting for Unity, and as chairman of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Conversations. He sat as one of the five judges of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved which granted a retrospective faculty for Henry Moore's controversial new altar commissioned by Chad Varah and Lord Palumbo for St Stephen Walbrook.
Final years and death
He retired to Worcestershire in 1991, taking over four parishes with his wife, who was ordained as a priest in 1994, and also served as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Worcester from 1989. He retired again, to Pershore, in 1998. He died in Worcester. He is survived by his second wife and their daughter and his three daughters from his first marriage. His memorial service, attended by (among others) Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham) and Michael Scholar (President of St John's College, Oxford), took place at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford on 28 May 2008.
- Daily Telegraph, Thursday, 6 March 2008; pg. 25; Issue 47511; col B "Obituary: The Rt Rev Kenneth Woollcombe: Bishop of Oxford who brought a refreshing style to the diocese and encouraged ecumenism"
- , The Times, Tuesday, 17 March 1953; pg. 10; Issue 52572; col B "Election of Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford"
- The Times, Saturday, 12 September 1970; pg. 14; Issue 57969; col D "New Bishop of Oxford"
- The London Gazette: . 28 June 1946. Retrieved 18 March 2008.
- Obituary, The Independent, 15 April 2008
- “Who’s Who”: London, A & C Black, 1992 ISBN 0-7136-3514-2
- Church web site
- Obituary, The Times, 6 March 2007
- The London Gazette: . 21 January 1971. Retrieved 18 March 2008.
- The Times, Friday, 4 July 1965; pg. 1; Issue 53439; col D, Anglicans debate the ordination of women
- Crockford's Clerical Directory 1975-76 London: Oxford University Press, 1976 ISBN 0-19-200008-X
- The London Gazette: . 8 June 1978. Retrieved 18 March 2008.
-  Fam 146,  2 All ER 578
- Daily Telegraph, Court and Social (p28) Issue no 47,584, 30 May 2008
|Church of England titles|
Harry James Carpenter
|Bishop of Oxford
Patrick Campbell Rodger