Obituary: Chris Oliver, teacher

Chris Oliver: Popular teacher whose wide range of interests was a testament to his energy
Chris Oliver: Popular teacher whose wide range of interests was a testament to his energy
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Born: 11 May, 1928, in Edinburgh. Died: 25 September 2015 , in Edinburgh, aged 87

Chris Oliver was a highly regarded chemistry teacher at Dunfermline High School, Daniel Stewart’s College and then Stewart’s Melville College in a career that spanned 40 years until his retiral in 1993. He is fondly remembered by his pupils as a fair-minded,encouraging and extremely accomplished teacher who imparted enthusiasism and conveyed a sense of vocation. His talents were not restricted to the classroom as he played a full and committed part in many school activities, particularly sport, that being one of his main passions.

Outwith school, he was a man of diverse interests, including the Territorial Army, the Church, the Great Outdoors and travel. He was a loyal and good friend to many, regularly keeping in touch with friends of long-standing and former TA colleagues. Despite his many attributes and attainments, he was self-effacing and maintained a low profile, being, as one fellow teacher put it, “comfortable in his own skin”.

He was born in Edinburgh along with twin brother Robert. At the time the family lived in Aberdeen but it was thought prudent for his mother to give birth in Edinburgh in case of medical complications. After two years in Aberdeen,the family moved to Liverpool, where Chris’ father was employed in insurance. In 1940, the brothers were evacuated to Edinburgh because of the bombing raids on Merseyside and they attended Daniel Stewart’s College, where their uncle, Dr John Oliver, was head of the English Department and would teach for 20 years.

Dr Oliver was so highly thought of that on his retirement a memorial fund was set up in his honour. Doubtless his example influenced Chris and his brother, as Robert also became a teacher, at Dollar Academy.

In 1950, Chris graduated from Edinburgh University with first-class honours in chemistry and embarked on national service in the Canal Zone in Egypt, which implanted in him the seeds of a love of travel. This was a fraught period as the state of Israel was in the throes of being established, but Chris fully embraced the military life, becoming commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals. He thoroughly enjoyed his experiences there – despite at one stage being accidentally shot, necessitating a return to the UK for treatment.

When national service was over, he continued his military involvement, joining the then Territorial Army, attaining the rank of major and participating wholeheartedly in their various activities, including the annual camp. When the “Territorials” became the TAVR, he had the honour of being the first Commanding Officer of 61 Signals Squadron.This involvement was to be an enduring feature of his life as he maintained his military links through retirement and the last two years of his life were spent in the Edinburgh Erskine Home.

In 1953, after a year’s teacher training at Moray House, he began his career at Dunfermline High School. This was to prove very significant as there he met a colleague, maths teacher Aileen Barclay, from Rosyth, whom he married in 1962 and with whom he shared a happy and fulfilling marriage.

In 1963, he left Dunfermline to take up a post in Edinburgh at his old school, Daniel Stewarts College where, in effect, he would remain for 30 years through its amalgamation in 1973 (becoming Stewart’s Melville College). Prior to amalgamation, he was deputy head of science and thereafter assistant principal teacher of chemistry. Throughout his time there he refereed rugby in all weathers, umpired cricket and officiated at athletics contests. From 1970, he meticulously and successfully organised the annual sports day, which was a hugely demanding logistical undertaking. In 1978 he became housemaster of Tay House and in 1980 he and Aileen took over the responsibility of running the school boarding house, Dean Park House. This required them to live there en famille, by now with their three daughters. In their role as houseparents, they were very successful, creating a warm,supportive, homelike environment for the 70 or so pupils from all over the globe. Sadly,this came to an end in 1987 when Aileen died, a devastating blow. Chris and his daughters returned to live in their home in Craigleith, where he remained until about two years ago.

He continued, immersed in school activities, and slowly reshaped his life. Rather reluctantly, he retired in 1993 but then undertook preparation and marking of examination papers for the Scottish education authority, as well as invigilating duties. He delighted in spending time with grandchildren Andrew and James and the rest of his family. He enjoyed playing golf at the Merchants’ club in Edinburgh, went on walking holidays with his twin to Pakistan, Morocco, Chile and Switzerland,was very involved with Stockbridge Church where he was an elder and treasurer for years, was a regular supporter of Stewart’s Melville rugby team at Inverleith and organised educational cruises for school parties to the Baltic and Mediterranean. He also maintained his military contacts, organising and taking part in reunions and dinners, a link sustained through his final two years in the Erskine Home.His was a busy and full life.

Youngest daughter Hazel commented: “He loved his family and thoroughly enjoyed teaching and all aspects of school life.He was very kind, had a positive outlook and a wide range of interests. A fairly determined person, he had the gift of always looking on the bright side of things.”

He is survived by his daughters, Christine, a doctor; Kathryn, a nurse; and Hazel, a teacher, as well as his grandchildren.