Obituary: Alistair Campbell Simpson

Alistair Campbell Simpson, lecturer and festival organiser. Picture: Contributed

Alistair Campbell Simpson, lecturer and festival organiser. Picture: Contributed

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Bonsai-loving lecturer and festival organiser known as ‘one of Falkirk’s best servants’

Alistair Campbell Simpson, lecturer and festival organiser.

Born: 21 December, 1936, in Perth.

Died: 28 March, 2015, in Falkirk, aged 78.

Alistair Simpson had a major impact in improving Falkirk – both as a place in which to live and making it more attractive for visitors. While leader of the Falkirk and District Arts and Civic Council he encouraged a greater awareness about local affairs and furthered the scope of the organisation through his enthusiastic support as its secretary and convenor.

He was a founder member of the Falkirk Festival Chorus (founded by Robert Tait in 1973) and provided advice and assistance to countless new ventures in the area.

Simpson was a much admired figure throughout the community and was recognised as “one of Falkirk’s best servants”.

Alistair Campbell Simpson was educated in Perth and then gained honour degrees in geography and history at St Andrews University. During his time at St Andrews Simpson was much involved with several university societies and played a full part in university life.

Initially he taught at Morgan Academy in Dundee and spent a year on an exchange with Essex District High School in Ontario. In 1966, he returned to Falkirk and was appointed a lecturer in social studies at Callendar Park Teacher Training College.

His responsibilities there included work in the audio-visual department. He was one of the first post-graduate students to study educational technology in Scotland and on receiving his diploma Simpson joined Moray House as an educational television producer/director.

While at Callendar Park Simpson became an authority on local history and encouraged his students to take a keen interest in the many Roman camps and remains in the vicinity.

He built up a close working relationship with Tom Rae, a colleague at Callendar Park. Together they pioneered many projects to take students out on field work and get involved in archaeological digs.

Such events included trips to Orkney to work on the prehistoric graves and investigate the ancient cave paintings in the Dordogne.

Nowhere was Simpson’s direct contribution to the Falkirk community more evident than in his championing of the Arts Festival. In 1968 he was appointed the secretary and convenor of Falkirk Arts and Civic Council and expanded the number of community groups participating in the festival and broadened the range of the programme considerably.

Thanks to his own enthusiasm and dedication to the project the Arts Festival became a major local event. By 1990, when he retired, it was three weeks long and had became acknowledged as one of the leading community festivals in Scotland.

Many in Falkirk have a particularly fond memory of a project with which Simpson was closely associated: the 1987 pageant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ beheading in Fotheringhay Castle.

It was set against the impressive backdrop of Callendar House and used many of the townsfolk and both amateur dramatic societies (the Falkirk Players and the Tryst Theatre) in the town.

It was entirely appropriate that the pageant was held at Callendar as Mary had herself stayed in a former chateau on the site that was redesigned in the 19th century. Simpson ensured it was all done in a most professional manner – indeed he commissioned a script from Russell McGillivray, then teaching at Larbert High School. The event was a resounding success and despite bad weather on the second night Simpson was widely congratulated for his ambition, imagination and sheer determination.

Simpson retired from Moray House in 1992 and devoted much of his time to another of his passions: the growing of bonsai trees. He became a leading figure in the Scottish Bonsai Association and won many awards and held several posts in the society – his work was recognised when he was made their honorary life president.

His love of cultivating bonsai was further witnessed when Simpson organised a Bonsai Friendship Weekend at Stirling University. He gained financial support from the Japanese government to build a permanent home for the collection in a Bonsai Pavilion in Japanese garden style. His interest in gardening was seen in the Scottish Gardeners’ Forum, which he co-founded, editing their newsletter and serving as its honorary vice president. In 2009 the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society awarded Simpson The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Medal.

Another lasting contribution to Falkirk was Simpson’s arduous campaign to halt the demolition of Callendar House. He wrote persuasive letters to the Secretary of State for Scotland underlining its historic significance (it dates from the 14th century) and its connection with many famous people – notably Charles Edward Stewart and Queen Victoria.

Simpson’s zeal and enthusiasm never flagged, despite repeated ill health in his later years. He is survived by his wife Pat and their two sons.

ALASDAIR STEVEN

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