Obituary: George Henderson, teacher, mathematician, statistician

George Henderson, inspiring mathematician and teacher. Picture: Contributed
George Henderson, inspiring mathematician and teacher. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 23 April, 1941, in Caithness. Died: 21 February, 2016, in Edinburgh, aged 74.

Born at Halcro Farm, Bower, Robin Henderson was an inspiring mathematician and teacher whose gentle and positive manner encouraged all those around him.

His early years on the Caithness farm instilled in him a love of animals, machinery and the outdoors. He remembered prisoners from the nearby Watten PoW Camp 165 working on the farm – they appeared unable to pronounce his name and when they greeted him it sounded like “Obeen!”. They used to make wooden toys for him and his sister in the prison workshop and a favourite was a duck that waddled down a slope. He was delighted to find a similar one in a Prague toyshop many years later.

Having been Dux at Wick Academy, Robin came to Edinburgh to complete his schooling at George Watson’s College, where he was soon noted as having excellent academic ability. After achieving an Honours degree in Mathematics and Physics from Edinburgh University, he undertook teacher training at Moray House and then began his teaching career at Boroughmuir Secondary School. He then went on to become senior maths lecturer at Napier College where he was involved in the development of the BSc degree in Mathematics with Engineering Technology.

Upon his retirement from Napier, he became a statistical consultant, continued his work as exam setter and marker for the SQA and published his book Six Sigma Quality Improvement with Minitab. He also worked as a stroke audit co-ordinator at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Robin had a huge passion for music and in 1982 he became a member of what was then the MacTaggart Scott Works Band, working his way from cornet to tuba. The 1980s was not exactly a vintage period for the band: when Robin became a member there were many empty seats around the conductor’s stand. The band had no uniforms and many of the instruments were very old and well past their best. The music library was full of what was sometimes called ‘yellow music’ in that it had been there so long the paper had faded and changed colour. No-one could remember the last time the band performed a public concert. During the 1990s Robin, as band chairman, was at the forefront of efforts to turn things around. A successful fundraising drive allowed new instruments and music to be purchased. New uniforms were obtained and members recruited. The band achieved a higher profile locally and began to play a much more significant role in the Loanhead community. There was even some success in band contests, although that was never a particular driving force for Robin – he loved simply making music, the camaraderie of the players and the ability of the band to have a positive impact in the local community. When Loanhead Brass Roots was formed in 2002 to nurture the younger players, Robin performed a vital behind the scenes role, liaising with parents and generally ensuring everything ran smoothly. Not only encouraging the youngsters of the band with their playing, he would also frequently offer guidance and support with their maths homework, never tiring of his role as a teacher and mentor. His immense contribution was a major factor in the huge success of Brass Roots which has and continues to be one of the leading youth band initiatives anywhere in Scotland. For his contribution to youth banding in particular Robin was awarded Honorary Membership of the Scottish Brass Band Association in 2008.  

When Robin took part with the band in his first Loanhead Gala Day procession in 1983 there were only 15 members on parade. When the band proudly leads this year’s procession in June there will be 30 - 40 on parade including large numbers of young players. Robin’s legacy to the band and the wider community in Loanhead lives on.

He was described as a gentleman in the truest sense, a friend to many and a family man who was Caithness to the core. He is survived by his wife Anne, son Iain, daughter Fiona and grandson Aidan.