29th October 2010 at 01:00

Ray calvin, former general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, has died at the age of 65.

In my second day as president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, I found myself on the Seacat ferry heading for the British and Irish Group of Teachers' Unions (BIGTU) meeting, arranged in Belfast by the Ulster Teachers' Union. It was with great sadness that I heard of his death.

Ray had been brought up in Bushmills - home of the famous whiskey, as he was not slow to remind you - and originally trained as an RUC police officer, being posted to Londonderry at the beginning of The Troubles.

In parallel with his "day" job, he took an Open University degree and a masters in social science at the University of Ulster. He then left the RUC and went to train as a teacher at Stranmillis University College, where he met his future wife, Maggi.

In 1997, the post of general secretary of UTU came up and Ray applied for it successfully. He brought to the job an ability to analyse and assess the problems encountered when representing teachers, particularly in legal matters.

He was particularly successful in overseeing the transfer of special care pupils deemed "ineducable" to the education sector.

He became part of the UTU at a time when the European view of education was dominated by the big English unions; anything happening on the Celtic fringes was not really considered of interest, or even discussed. Ray, however, was instrumental in getting the Celtic groups to co-operate with one another, and to make it clear to others in Europe that we were not part of the English education picture and had unique problems and solutions.

His work on anti-sectarian initiatives in Northern Ireland was widely recognised and considered an inspiration elsewhere, particularly in Scotland. He believed passionately that everyone was entitled to an education of an equally high standard, no matter where they came from or who their parents were.

The relationship between Ray and the SSTA was close: we attended each other's congresses and worked together in the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and BIGTU, often supporting motions put forward by the other. He replied to the toast to the guests on at least one occasion at SSTA congress.

Ray was instrumental in creating a family atmosphere in UTU headquarters and this spilled over into his relationship with the Educational Institute of Scotland and the SSTA. He brought out the best in people and when asked for advice, it was usually given and was always considered and sound.

The relationship was cemented when Ray was awarded life membership by the SSTA, its highest accolade.

Bill Fitzpatrick, former president of the SSTA.

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