Obituary - John Dobie

10th April 2009 at 01:00

John Dobie, who was acting director of education in Edinburgh for a brief spell in 1998 and who has died suddenly at the age of 74, was a pivotal figure in education management in Scotland during the 1980s and 1990s.

For most of his career, which was spent in Lothian Region and then Edinburgh, he was in charge of both staffing matters and the education budget. This made him a powerful figure, and the expertise which John built up in these areas put him at the centre of events - a place where he loved to be.

John had an endearing habit, his trademark wink, which left those around him with the impression that he knew much more than he was letting on (which he often did), or that he would let them know later (which he often did). He liked to be in control.

He loved the cut and thrust of negotiation but, unlike many in management, he did not lose the respect of those on the other side of the table. One union activist commented: "He is prepared actually to negotiate; he is not one of those who sits there with an amiable facade but with an attitude of 'give the buggers nothing'."

A colleague noted that "John got things done"; this would often be preceded by a reassuring wink of "leave it with me". Liz Reid, the former education director in Lothian and Edinburgh, who worked closely with him, said in her funeral tribute: "I can truly say that John was the finest educational leader and administrator I have worked with." But, as she also noted: "Working with John was always fun."

He put his skills to good use as an influential adviser to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. He was a key figure in tying up the loose ends of the 1987 deal which followed the teachers' strikes of that period, and in pursuing the ultimately fruitless efforts in the 1990s to strike a pay and conditions bargain with the unions under the optimistically-entitled "millennium review". Following his retirement, he was much in demand as an educational consultant and was awarded an OBE for his services to education.

John Dobie spent almost all of his educational life in Scotland, arriving in Lothian Region in 1979 as an assistant divisional education officer. He was born in Northwich, Cheshire, and taught English and history for 13 years in various schools in Cheshire and Liverpool, eventually rising to become assistant director of education in Stockport before his move to Scotland.

As a stalwart in the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland for many years, John was instrumental in opening up the organisation to the press, helping to give it a stronger profile. He was the first of the modern breed in the directorate.

John is survived by his wife Sheila, herself a distinguished educationist who became director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (Scotland).

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