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Tributes / Obituary: George Jamieson 1936-2021 – “a professor of life”

George surrounded by family at the official opening of Uyeasound Pier in his beloved Unst.

George Jamieson, who passed away last week aged 84, was born in Uyeasound, Unst on 2 December 1936. He could trace his Unst ancestors back to the farm of Still near Muness, in 1642, held by Udal Tenure since Norse times. His dad was a man of many skills, talents and indeed jobs, but of few words. His diary entry on the day George was born read “ram slipped, George born”.

From birth George formed a strong attachment to family, of course and to the community of Uyeasound – and no more clearly seen decades later in his hard and continuous work as chairman of the Uyeasound Waterfront Trust dedicated to getting a new pier. The pier is testament to the hard work of all involved and to George’s dedication.

Sailing down to Lerwick on the Earl of Zetland at the age of 12 to attend Anderson Educational Institute and to take up residence in the then new Janet Courtney Hostel was a formative moment. A new world of learning, of new friends and of course new challenges all opened up in George’s life. He reflected very fondly of these years, coping with life away from home for long periods of time, handling the demands of school, developing his skills as a footballer and sportsman laid firm foundations for life after AEI.

George was a keen footballer for Scalloway, Shetland and – as pictured here – the hostel team in 1952.

George went on to study industrial chemistry at Heriot Watt, perhaps with thoughts of life as an industrial chemist. A vacancy for a teacher of science/chemistry/maths at his old school “Da Institute” arose. He applied and was duly appointed taking up the post in August 1960. George brought a brave new world to the rarefied atmosphere of the school.

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Many pupils in those science and maths classes of the 1960s still recall the delight of learning with and from George. Communication came naturally and sharing his enthusiasm for knowledge was equally evident whether in class, in discussion or indeed in daily life.

Years later I recall saying to George how impressed I was by his knowledge and his great capacity for sharing and explaining that knowledge. He replied: “Boy, it’s what you don’t know that matters.” I went away thinking about that and realised and appreciate how right he was.

George was a strong family man. His wife, Lorraine and daughter Morag and later son-in-law Stephen, grandson Michael and granddaughter-in-law Sarah were everything to him and he found great strength and joy from all of them. Great joy came also from football – a lifelong love. He played football over a long period of time, beginning in Unst then for Scalloway and for Shetland. He took part in and continued supporting the inter-county and the junior inter-county.

Up Helly A was hugely important too and much enjoyed by George. He was a vital member of “da teachers’ squad” and was four times out in jarl squads, enjoying it all hugely and particularly in 2009 when his son-in-law Stephen was Lerwick’s Guizer Jarl.

Clearly a gifted and very special teacher, George’s career developed. In 1970 the AEI and Lerwick Central Public School amalgamated to become a new comprehensive school – Anderson High School. George was an assistant head teacher, still teaching some chemistry and also a guidance teacher.

Title apart, without question George was a guidance teacher/role model/mentor to generations of people. In the past few days since his death many have perhaps said to themselves “Thanks to Geordie I did that” … or “without Geordie’s help I would not” … His capacity to connect with, relate to and understand people – pupils and teacher colleagues alike – was immense. His fixed stare, his walking around a room (or indeed a person) as he shared his idea or a talking point, were the hallmarks of a man with presence, gravitas and charisma.

In 1982 he became head teacher of Anderson High School. Building on the foundations laid in the preceding decade by John Graham, George led the school for the next 13 years to become one of the country’s top schools. His address on becoming head teacher highlighted the importance of collective responsibility: “I’ll only be as good as all of us – staff and pupils.” Powerfully, he went on to say how important it was for all of us to play our part in lifting up the heads of those pupils whose heads were down.

Carrying the Olympic torch in Lerwick in 2012.

During the 1980s the numbers attending the school rose rapidly. It was the oil era and the era of the school being full, despite the addition of buildings in 1977. A cap was placed on pupil numbers. This was challenged resulting in George defending the limit on the school roll at the High Court in London. He won the case and the need for a second high school in Brae was established.

Education is about change – it builds futures. During the 1980s and 1990s there were considerable changes, particularly attempts to break down the age old barriers between academic, practical and vocational learning. Some change came in 1984 with the ending of O Grades for some and no formal exams for others. Nationally and locally George contributed to ideas of breaking down these divisions. He talked many times of “certification for all” and hopefully “a curriculum for all”.

George, or Geordie, was a highly respected head teacher at the Anderson High School for 13 years before retiring in 1995.

George retired in 1995. Family life at the Croft in Uyeasound and his Lerwick home enabled him to continue his personal interests in places he loved. He and Lorraine went on to travel the globe – Australia,New Zealand, USA and many times to their much loved Norway and Sweden and the Czech Republic. He had firmly supported the school’s pioneering links with the town of Zlin and was always enthusiastic about the Global Classroom programme. George was present in the town of Zlin during the first visit of the then soon-to-be president of the country Vaclav Havel.

George and Lorraine’s home was always a place where visitors – local, national and international – received a warm welcome and a warm insight to the community George loved. On hearing the sad news of his passing, a Czech teacher who’d been to Shetland several times said: “He was the finest, most charismatic man I ever met.” She spoke for thousands across these islands and far beyond.

An icon, a mentor, George Jamieson was a professor of life. He was driven by values that led him to make decisions to help and not hinder. ‘Peerie Geordie’, as he was known by some, turned out to be in every sense a great man.

Compiled by Stewart Hay with input from several others.

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