13th June 2008 at 01:00
John Joseph Smith, a former headteacher of Columba High in Coatbridge, from 1969 until his retirement in 1985, has died aged 83
John Joseph Smith, a former headteacher of Columba High in Coatbridge, from 1969 until his retirement in 1985, has died aged 83.

John hailed originally from Chapelhall, where his father and two brothers were miners in the Lanarkshire pits. In those harsh and difficult times, he was the son selected for education, and so began a lifetime of dedication to teaching and helping others.

After attending Our Lady's High in Motherwell, he graduated MA in modern languages from Glasgow University in 1945, then qualified as a teacher from Jordanhill College the following year.

In 1949, he worked for a year as a tutor at a school in Chateauroux in the Loire Valley where he learned to speak French like a native. He went on to graduate BA Hons from the University of London in 1951, to earn an extra shilling a week as a teacher.

That year, John married Jean McIntyre, whose family ran a small grocer's shop in the west end of Bellshill. They brought up six children in Mossend, and finally moved to Motherwell in 1974.

He taught at Armadale Academy, Our Lady's High and Holy Cross High in Hamilton.

A lifelong member of the Labour Party, he was election agent for his uncle, John Timmons, in 1959 when he was elected MP for the old Bothwell constituency.

John's politics were motivated by a desire for justice and he was driven by a longing to help the community struggle out of poverty. He was always focused on the importance of education as a means of bettering society.

He was one of the youngest headteachers appointed at the time and became a force in education, both within Lanarkshire and nationally. He was an early champion of comprehensive education and founded a parent teachers' association, almost unheard of at the time, to sell this idea to the local community.

In 1970, working with Donald Dewar, among others, John was instrumental in setting up the children's hearing system in Scotland.

On retirement, he chaired the board of governors for St Philip's List D residential school in Plains, Airdrie; was active in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society; worked with the Citizens' Advice Bureau; and did local charity work with the Guild of Help. He also enrolled in an advanced Italian course to add another language to his set.

He loved football and sat at the end of Row H at Motherwell Fir Park, where he was a season ticket holder.

John relished every single day of his life, and he died peacefully at his home, tending his garden. He is survived by his wife, five children, two sisters, 14 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Jim, Iain and Martin Smith.

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