Craig Richards: Civic leader in Edinburgh

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The Independent Online

Forty years ago, Craig Richards was one of the most influential local politicians in Scotland, during an era when local government had a dignity of its own, and did not allow central government to trespass in areas that pertained to local authorities.

He was a pioneering chairman of the City of Edinburgh education committee and in that capacity almost single-handedly saved the project of Napier College of Technology, based as it was to be in the old tower house occupied in the 16th century by John Napier, the inventor of logarithms. Had it not been for Craig Richards' determination I doubt today there would be the hugely successful Napier University.

Before Richards cut the first sod on the site in January 1962, there had been endless argument and the finance seemed unforthcoming. Some town councillors said it wouldn't be done in time; architects and surveyors said they had no hope of finishing the project; builders and businessmen opined it was quite impossible. It was Richards' drive and co-operation with the main contractors, Crudens Limited, that ensured the project's completion, in July 1964, on time and within budget.

Craig Handyside Richards was born in 1906 in Leith, the eighth of 12 children of a cooper and cask merchant (mostly for whisky). He was sent to Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh and, after a rigorous education, pursued a successful career in insurance, helping lay the foundations for the great financial centre that Edinburgh has now become. He started work with the Prudential at its architecturally distinguished George Street office; he told me that his love of quality buildings started at this point. Indeed, he was one of the first civic leaders to alert his colleagues to the problems of their jewel of European architecture, the new town of Edinburgh. Leaving the Prudential, he started his own brokers' business.

During the Second World War Richards served with the RAF, training glider pilots out of Drem Airfield in East Lothian, and continued to fly gliders as a hobby afterwards. Elected to the town council for the St Andrew's ward in 1955, he became involved with the education committee. As a Conservative, he championed the cause not only of Edinburgh's Merchant Company's schools, but also the junior secondary schools, the Scottish equivalent of secondary moderns.

Richards made an important contribution to the finance committee, where he was sympathetic to the needs of the Edinburgh International Festival. He also convened the lighting and cleansing sub committee of the works committee – it was not without justification that Edinburgh was dubbed the "city that powdered its nose and forgot to wipe its bottom". He embarked on a programme of sewage works where there had been none before.

For 70 years he was an Elder of the Palmerston Place Church of Scotland.

Tam Dalyell

Craig Handyside Richards, insurance broker and politician: born Leith 22 May 1906; member, Edinburgh City Council 1955-68, chairman of the education committee 1961-64, Senior Bailie of the City 1967-68, married 1947 Elizabeth Buchanan (died 2001; two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 22 February 2008.