Obituary: Stewart Wilson
Tuesday 31 August 1993
THAT Stewart Wilson should eventually die leading one of his innumerable climbs and walks on the Scottish mountains would have been as he wished; that he of all familiar figures in the Scottish outdoor community should have fallen 200 feet to a tragic death on such a climb is a mystery. He had a reputation for meticulous care and thoroughness. But then, dramatic and treacherous Glencoe has claimed so many climbers over the ages. Apparently, Wilson slipped while negotiating the Pinnacles on his favourite Aonach Eagach, 'the notched ridge', in the act of turning back to help a climber in his party in difficulty.
Shortly after Stewart Wilson was born in Manchester, the family moved north on his father's appointment as leader of the orchestra at Her Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen. In every responsible job that he was to hold, in schools over 30 years, Wilson made sure that music was central and not peripheral to the curriculum. As an MP, I enjoy being invited to school concerts in the constituency. What was outstanding about those under Wilson's aegis was the enjoyment of performance from pupils, who did not superficially appear to be talented. Wilson was a master of bringing out the best from average and below average academic pupils.
Educated at Robert Gordon's College and Aberdeen University, where he read geography, which sparked his lifelong interest in climbing and hill walking, he did his National Service as a submarine officer in the Navy. His refusal to believe official accounts of how HMS Conqueror might have 'lost' the Belgrano is a classic example of how a constituent can fortify his MP in a campaign for the truth. Wilson called a spade a spade and he knew a lot about the capabilities of submarines.
After completing his two years in the Navy, he was given a job with good prospects by Lockheed Hydraulic Brakes. And in 1957 he married Vivienne Jenkins, a teacher of the handicapped with whom he was to enjoy a particularly happy marriage.
In 1959 Wilson forsook a promising career in industry for the position of Head of Geography at the South Holderness School in Humberside. In 1961, he was promoted to West Bridgeford School where his enthusiasm made a mark with the Nottinghamshire Education Committee.
In 1963, he went to Moorside School in Staffordshire and then three years later as director of arts subjects to the progressive Efton Grange School in Middlesbrough. Such varied experience made him a good choice to become head of the Sutton Centre at Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, then one of the flagships of community education, which so interested Tony Crosland as Secretary of State.
My parliamentary colleague Frank Haynes, a prominent member of the Nottinghamshire County Council at the time, later commented wryly to me that when in 1978 Wilson was chosen, amid fierce competition, as the first head of the first community school in Scotland at Deans, in Livingstone New Town, 'Scotland's gain was Nottinghamshire's loss.' Wilson's demonic energy had given the concept of community education the imprimatur of success. At Deans, he enjoyed great success, initially. Yesterday, Jim Telfer, Wilson's deputy head, now headmaster of Hawick High School, and nationally known as a Scottish rugby international and manager of a British Lions touring side told me, 'Stewart Wilson had a vision of education which was 20 years ahead of his time. He believed in education for life and was an orator who inspired his pupils collectively.' According to Telfer, Wilson took immense trouble over one of the most important functions of a head teacher - that of guiding and helping his staff in their careers.
Telfer also confirms what I had noticed every time I went to Wilson's school that he knew every pupil by name and had a healthy personal relationship with them.
However, community education, involving as it does family and friends coming into the classroom and complicated informal structures, depends on the enthusiasm and dedication of teachers. It was Wilson's misfortune that his last years at Deans Community High School were soured by the teachers' strike and withdrawal from extra-curricular activities. This was devastating in every school; it was doubly devastating for the particular structure of community education. Wilson, in sorrow, decided to take early retirement. In 1986, Phoenix-like, he founded his own company, Walk the Scottish Way. I know from many of those who walked and climbed with him that his knowledge and leadership enhanced their lives. But Stewart Wilson was a life-enhancer for all those with whom he came in contact.
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