Obituary

4th February 2011 at 00:00

The death of John Fee at the age of 80 deprives Scotland of an important urban tradition bearer. Nurtured in Edinburgh's Old Town as part of its thriving Irish-Scottish community, Fee was a supreme entertainer immersed in the history of his community and locale.

Born to parents Paddy and Catherine, John Fee was one of eight children. Neat-made and a natural athlete, Fee followed in his father's footsteps as a champion boxer, winning the Scottish Amateur Lightweight Crown in 1949. He also followed his father into the army doing National Service in Hong Kong with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, in which Paddy Fee had also served.

From the start, however, John Fee had creative leanings and a series of jobs in the 1950s included scene-painting for the King's Theatre and singing in the opera chorus.

In 1955, John married, forming a lifelong partnership. Being a father stimulated a passion for education which was to characterise the rest of Fee's life. As his daughters recall: "He taught us how to paint, draw, write, pray, think. and look - on long walks all over Edinburgh, Pentlands, Hermitage, Cramond, Dean Village, and on hostelling holidays to the west coast of Scotland."

For Fee, education was not just book-learning but exploration, observation and participation in all aspects of community life, including its stories and songs. Nonetheless, in 1967 he went to Edinburgh University as a full- time mature student, gaining an honours degree in history and going on to teach history and modern studies.

As a teacher, Fee was legendary - meticulous in preparation, dry of wit, demanding the best, yet above all compassionate and understanding, as if every youngster were part of his family network and destined to succeed.

Retiring eventually as head of history and modern studies at Ainslie Park Secondary in Edinburgh, he began a creative career founded on his passion for the city's social history.

As the storytelling revival began at The Netherbow in Edinburgh's High Street, Fee quickly gained recognition as a master of the art, and as someone connected with an urban tradition of song, story and ceilidh which had been pushed into the shadows. He helped bring it back into the light.

Regaling packed audiences in The Waverley Bar's Guid Crack Club, pacing the Netherbow stage, hat clamped firmly to his head, or leading gaggles of children and adults on storytelling tours, John was in his element.

Yet behind the entertainer was a deeply serious student of humanity, a person full of sincere religion truly lived out. He was a wise and generous man whose goodness seeped through every pore, attracting respect, love and admiration.

In the words of the folk song, John Fee was "a man you don't meet every day". He leaves a rich legacy of memories along with some fine publications.

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