The Rev Andrew Ross: Missionary and Church historian

Andrew Ross was a distinguished missionary, academic scholar and university leader during an illustrious career that spanned several continents. Born into a coal-mining family in the Lothians of Scotland, he retained the commitment to family life, community, football and social justice that was instilled in him from his earliest days. All these he celebrated with a characteristic passion and infectious enthusiasm.

After education at Dalkeith High School and Edinburgh University, he served as an officer in the RAF before returning to Edinburgh to study at New College for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. In 1953, he married Joyce Elder, who had been a fellow student of history in Edinburgh. They would have 45 happy years together and five children. A postgraduate year at Union Theological Seminary, New York in 1958-59 was to prove significant. Work in the black neighbourhood of East Harlem impressed upon him the evils of urban poverty and racial injustice – this experience was to serve him well in his subsequent work in Africa and throughout his academic career.

Ordained to the ministry of the Church of Scotland in 1958, he moved to Malawi (then Nyasaland) where he served the Presbyterian Church of Central Africa. Actively engaged and outspoken on political and social issues, he was deeply committed to the independence movement, democratic reform and social justice. Becoming fluent in the national language of Chewa, he served as chairman of the Lands Tribunal of the Nyasaland, then Malawi, Government 1963-65, and vice-chairman of the Nyasaland, then Malawi, National Tenders Board, 1963-65.

However, he grew increasingly disturbed by the oppressive regime of Hastings Banda, and, after supporting the democratic resistance movement, he was forced quite suddenly to leave Malawi by the Banda regime in May 1965. In fleeing Malawi, he and his wife had also to leave the grave of their young daughter, Jocelyn, who earlier had been killed in a road accident.

His enforced return to Edinburgh enabled him to continue work on a doctoral thesis on the Church of Scotland's Blantyre mission. At this time, he was also appointed to a lectureship in the history of missions, the first such dedicated post in the UK. He became part of a distinguished cohort of church historians in the Faculty of Divinity at New College under the leadership of Professor Alec Cheyne and including David Wright and Peter Matheson. Known as the "Cheyne gang", they raised their subject to new standards of professionalism in historical research while also adopting a more global perspective on the history of the church. Christianity was no longer taught as primarily a European religion, but one that from the early centuries onwards had strong roots in Africa and Asia. Ross brought his own commitment and eloquence to the classroom. Students would long remember not only his scholarly insights, but the rich fund of stories from the Lothian coalfields, East Harlem and Malawi.

An activist, he immersed himself in the administration and management of Edinburgh University. He served on the University Court from 1971 to 1974, where he developed a friendship with the then Rector, Gordon Brown, whom he had already known through his membership of the Labour Party. From 1978 until 1984, he was Dean of Faculty and Principal of New College. One branch of his family had been Presbyterian and the other Roman Catholic. Committed to ecumenism, Ross enabled the Faculty of Divinity to become increasingly diverse in its staff body and he played an important role in the (then) controversial appointment of James Mackey, a Roman Catholic theologian, to a chair at New College in 1979. Mackey would later become one of his closest friends in the Divinity Faculty.

An accomplished and much sought-after public speaker, he remained active in the Scottish Labour Party – in many ways, he was both socialist and nationalist – and continued as a strong advocate of democratic reform in Africa. With his close links to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, he was instrumental in bringing his friend Allan Boesak to deliver a stunning series of lectures at New College at the height of the struggle in 1984.

Although his scholarly output was initially restricted by extensive administrative commitments, Ross produced an important set of publications later in his career. These included a monograph on the Scottish missionary John Philip (1986); A Vision Betrayed: the Jesuit missions in Japan and China 1542-1742 (1993); The Blantyre Mission and the making of Modern Malawi (1996); and a biography of David Livingstone (2002) that is widely regarded as the best available study.

Throughout his retirement, he maintained a steady scholarly output while also travelling extensively in the United States and Africa. He remained involved in the work of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, offering academic advice and pastoral support to many doctoral candidates. A great raconteur who was also a surprisingly good listener, he dispensed sound advice and encouragement to generations of international students.

Andrew Ross had been a keen athlete and all-rounder in his earlier years, but it was football that remained his greatest sporting love. Although his ancestral loyalties always remained with Hibs, he became the leading supporter of the Edinburgh University team.

Very few games were missed, and he was seemingly ever-present on team buses, in dressing rooms and in dug-outs where he kicked every ball. Any colleague believed to have a passing interest in the game would be regaled on a Monday morning with stories of outstanding performances, bad refereeing decisions, and the latest prospects for advance in the Scottish Cup. Into retirement, he never lost his boyish excitement for the game and pride of friendship with those who played it. His final illness only manifested itself when he collapsed after a match towards the end of last season.

Stewart J. Brown and David Fergusson

Andrew Christian Ross, missionary and Church historian: born Millerhill, Lothian 10 May 1931; ordained minister of the Church of Scotland 1958; Minister, Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (Malawi) 1958-65; Chairman, Lands Tribunal of Nyasaland, then Malawi Government 1963-65; Vice Chairman, National Tenders Board, Nyasaland, then Malawi Government 1963-65; Senior Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History, Edinburgh University 1966-98, Principal of New College and Dean, Faculty of Divinity 1978-84; Member, University Court 1971-73; Convener, Student Affairs Committee 1977-83; married 1953 Joyce Elder (four sons, and one daughter deceased); died Edinburgh 26 July 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power