Obituary - Jim Robertson

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
An Orkney maths teacher, who loved the bagpipes and trombone, has died aged 78

Jim Robertson, who has died at the age of 78, was a teacher of maths in Orkney. Born on a dairy farm at Viewfield, outside Kirkwall, he always regarded himself as a country boy.

Jim attended Kirkwall Grammar where he discovered a talent for mathematics, which he pursued at Aberdeen University. His love of music was noticed by the Boys' Brigade piping tutor, Jimmy Cooper, who taught him the bagpipes from the age of 10. Piping was a lifelong passion, and in retirement Jim became an active member of the Kirkwall city pipe band.

In his last years at school he started to take an active interest in progressive politics. He joined the Labour Party around 1958 and never left it, although he was variously on the party left, right and then the left again. It wasn't that Jim changed, but that the party moved around him.

After university, he did two years of national service with the RAF and was stationed in the desert near Baghdad during the Suez crisis. While he was there, he learned to play the tenor horn, but he was always drawn to the trombone and after leaving the RAF he bought one and taught himself to master it. He played with the Kirkwall town band for over 30 years, as well as various county and local orchestras.

On leaving the RAF, Jim joined engineering company Vickers Armstrong and worked in Swindon, but soon decided that commercial industry was not for him and looked for a way back to his Orkney home. While in the RAF, he had enjoyed teaching maths and, after retraining, landed a teaching post at Stromness Academy.

In 1961 Jim married Jean Roberts, a young home economics teacher. In 1972, he was made principal teacher of maths at his old school, Kirkwall Grammar.

He was extremely fair, put others before himself and took the most difficult classes, not only to help the staff but also to try to help the pupils. He had a reputation as a fearsome corridor disciplinarian, but in the classroom he was more engaging. Among friends he still loved to have a drink, a dance, and a good singsong. He was notorious for being the last one to leave any party.

Jim read widely from a young age and continued into old age. Very few topics were outside his interest and he often had several books on the go covering politics, history, language, maths, science, philosophy and religion. A few days before he died he was grappling with Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism.

For over 10 years he read for the Orkney Talking Newspaper and also helped out at the Orkney wireless museum.

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