George Jamieson obituary

Other lives: Shetlander and headteacher of the islands’ principal secondary school

My friend George Jamieson, who has died aged 84, was a Shetlander and a man of Unst, the most northerly of the British Isles. He died in the house that he had been born in. Yet George’s influence stretched out across the whole extent of the islands. As a teacher and then head of Shetland’s principal secondary school, he influenced the lives of new generations.

George’s parents were crofters. Willie Jamieson trapped rabbits, was a part-time boatman, tended a navigation light and was the local receiver of wrecks. Daisy (nee Ritch) ran a household where water arrived in a bucket, peat on the back of a pony and light had to come from an oil lamp.

George grew up with a deep respect for the success of earlier generations in meeting the challenges of such as harsh life. He gathered a great fund of knowledge of Unst, its landscape, its history and the many connections between its families.

He attended the village school in Uyeasound, south Unst, and won a scholarship to study at the then selective Anderson Institute in Lerwick. He left Unst aged 12 when he had still to see the north of his own island. He thrived as a student, as a footballer and among a wider society. A degree in industrial chemistry followed at Heriot Watt University, in Edinburgh; he graduated in 1959 and went on to do teacher training at Moray House (now part of the University of Edinburgh).

His first teaching job was at his old school in Lerwick, which became a comprehensive, Anderson high school, while he was there. He was a science teacher, then deputy head, and head of the school for 13 years. His long career coincided with immense and unexpected change in Shetland. Oil began to flow in from offshore; with it came opportunities and affluence. Welcome though these were, they also threatened the values of a society that cherished co-operation and the importance of community.

George wanted the young Shetlanders to retain that sense of rooted togetherness which most of their parents had known. As he broadened and adapted the curriculum of his school, he continued to demonstrate to his students his love of Shetland and an appreciation of characters from at least two previous centuries.

Retiring in 1995 to his parents’ croft, George continued to research the island that still fascinated him. He also applied much energy and tenacity to campaigning for a new pier, which Uyeasound had long needed. The new pier opened in 2009. It has not (yet) been named after him but it would make an appropriate memorial.

George married Lorraine Johnson in 1961. She survives him, along with their daughter, Morag, a grandson, Stephen, and a sister, Hilda.

David Waters

The GuardianTramp

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