Obituary: Alexander (Sandy) L Munro, head teacher

Head teacher devoted most of his life to the rehabilitation of young offenders. Picture: Contributed
Head teacher devoted most of his life to the rehabilitation of young offenders. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 12 August, 1931. in Edinburgh Died: 2 October, 2014, in Ayr, aged 83.

Many people whose lives he touched will be sad to hear of the passing of Sandy Munro but will remember fondly their time spent under his instruction.

His life can be characterised in simple yet powerful terms. He was:

A caring man – a family man and champion of thousands of boys whose lives he changed for the better.

A leading man – fearless, benevolent, driven and demanding.

A practical man – visionary, entrepreneurial and community spirited.

A thinking man – philosophical, caring and a meticulous planner.

Sandy was born on 12 August, 1931 in Edinburgh and grew up on Wilton Road, from where his father Alexander Binnie Munro ran his paper merchant business.

He had a close bond with sister Moira, and had a happy childhood of Cubs, Scouts, amateur dramatics, holidays in Elie in Fife, rugby at Melville College boys’ school, which he attended age five to 18, and time spent at Mayfield South Church under an inspiring Rev John L Riach.

After gaining a BSc and MA at Edinburgh University, a chance encounter brought him to Dr Guthrie’s Approved School for Boys as a Scout Master, which steered him away from Divinity College, Edinburgh and a life in the ministry.

He went instead to Moray House Teachers Training College where he gained his Dip Ed and the Dickson Prize for being “The Outstanding Teacher Among the Outgoing Students”.

He then spent much of his life devoted to the rehabilitation of young offenders in “approved schools”.

Paving the way came three years in the navy, where Sandy realised his talents and passion lay in training “wayward” boys to do well and so he became a training officer at HMS Ganges in Ipswich.

Under his instruction the first ever Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award in 1956 was awarded to a navy cadet. Seeing what could be done with the right discipline and a vocational training laid the foundations for his life’s calling and passion.

Sandy left the navy to return to teaching. He became third in charge at Wellington Farm Senior Boys Approved School in Penicuik, then deputy head at Norton Approved School for Boys in Warwickshire, where he learned the trades that would help build Geilsland in Ayrshire.

As headmaster of the newly established Geilsland School he found his life project.

Under his guidance and great leadership staff and pupils built the school and forged a strong relationship with the Beith community.

A bail-out mission to get the community hall ready for a show after contractors had left the hall and facilities in a state established the school’s helpful and dependable standing in the community.

This was facilitated too by the evolution of the popular Minstrel shows and further public works. The Geilsland regime of discipline and life skills gave the boys a sense of self-worth and pride based upon a positive attitude while working inside an atmosphere of integrity, education, care and vocational trades.

“We’ve turned these boys into snobs,” Sandy remarked when the boys shared their opinion of other approved school boys who didn’t present the same level of deportment and decorum the Geilsland boys were accustomed to.

Thousands of lives were touched and radically changed for the better. Up until the week of his passing former Geilsland pupils and teachers continued to make weekly visits, phone calls or write with updates on their families and life decisions, they still valued his input and approval.

The continued friendship with him and his senior staff remained a strong positive influence in the boys’ lives. This provided the positive affirmation Sandy Munro received to highlight he was indeed a great man who lived an honourable life as a servant leader.

A former head teacher at St John’s Primary School in Perth said of his time as a student teacher at Geilsland: “The school was dominated by the headmaster, Alexander (Sandy) Munro, an ex-teacher with a naval background. He had been at Geilsland from its small beginnings and had established its philosophy of achievement through firm discipline and physical work.

“He was determined, single-minded and dedicated but he also knew the value of friendship, sympathy and encouragement and had a riotous sense of humour. The school was built on his personality and he commanded great affection from staff and pupils.

“Today we would applaud his vision and leadership skills, and he would scoff at such descriptions.”

A heart attack forced Sandy into early retirement and subsequent health conditions were fought with what his family describe as “superhuman strength”. Sandy and his wife Shirley have enjoyed their lives quietly beside the sea in Ayr. Early international travels and his close and distant families in Scotland, England and America kept him busy and engaged.

In his past few months he was writing his autobiography and it is his own words here that best describe his life: “I’ve been convinced I’ve had a life!”

“When it’s all laid out before me, it actually sounds quite interesting … here I sit, pouring out those stories that stick out in my memory … that make me smile, feel proudest, know it’s all been worthwhile.”

He said two of his proudest moments took place in 1958: getting married, and devising and training the Chatham Navy Days PT Display by the boys of HMS Ganges.

Sandy Munro died peacefully at home in Ayr on 2 October. He is survived by his beloved wife Shirley; sons Chris, Andrew and Stuart; and grandchildren Mark, Steven, Gary, Nicola, Laura, Hazel, Katie and Gemma; and sister Moira, his lifelong friend. He recently became a great-grandfather to Isla and Emma.

His funeral service will take place tomorrow at Masonhill Crematorium, Ayr Road, Ayr at 1.15pm.

There will be a gathering for all friends and family afterwards at the Horizon Hotel Esplanade, Ayr.