Obituary: Sam Callander, engineer
Born: 9 July, 1922. Died: 22 June, 2012, aged 89
Sam Callander died in hospital in Dumfries on 22 June, 2012, just before his 90th birthday, and is buried at Parton Kirk.
He was educated in Newton Stewart and Castle Douglas High Schools, and these establishments must surely be proud of having instilled in him a lifelong passion for local history. Callander moved with his parents to Parton in 1936 when his father became the local blacksmith living at the smiddy. Callander continued to live there, and was employed as a skilled millwright by J & R Wallace, the agricultural engineers in Castle Douglas, for 48 years.
Sam Callander devoted much of his life to promoting the memory and achievements of another local man who lies in Parton’s old graveyard: James Clerk Maxwell, a scientist who lived much of his life nearby at Glenlair and is now ranked among the greatest physicists of all time.
Thanks to Callander’s tireless efforts over many years, a commemorative plaque to Maxwell was unveiled outside the church in 1989 recording this local connection and the great man’s early death in 1879.
Callander’s knowledge of all things Maxwell became encyclopaedic – an interest first fostered by a previous minister in Parton. Largely self-taught, he came to comprehend the nature of Maxwell’s laws of light, electricity and magnetism, which laid the foundations for radio, television and radar. He also studied Maxwell’s work on colour, which became the basis for colour television.
As Callander’s knowledge grew, so too did his collection of books and artefacts relating to Maxwell. These are now owned by the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation in Edinburgh, and are to be known as “The Sam Callander Collection”.
Among the collection of papers and memorabilia that Callander gathered and periodically put on display at Parton village hall, were biographies of Maxwell in foreign languages including Japanese, Chinese and Russian, presented to him by the authors.
The scope of Callander’s exhibitions was very wide – with something for everyone and much for many: from historical detail of Glenlair through incidents and people associated with JCM as a child, and later as laird and scientist. The effort of mounting the exhibitions must have increased over the later years, but Callander seemed to take it all in his stride.
In his retirement, Callander ran the village store and post office in Parton and therefore was often the first port of call for strangers looking for the great man’s grave. Callander’s continuing welcome, over the years, to the visiting scientists, academics and JCM enthusiasts who landed on his doorstep from all over the world was legendary.
An eloquent tribute to Callander was paid in the Scottish Parliament on the occasion of the commemoration in 2006 of the 175th anniversary of Maxwell’s birth. Alex Fergusson, MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, said: “I cannot talk about James Clerk Maxwell without mentioning the remarkable Sam Callander of Parton village. He has become a walking encyclopaedia on James Clerk Maxwell, and provides a wealth of knowledge to Parton’s visitors. He is a true and utterly devoted individual, and I am delighted that he has been able to join us this evening.”
Over the years, Callander was contacted by many people researching Maxwell’s life, including Prince Charles and Lord Reith, first director-general of the BBC, with whom he corresponded for a time. Lord Reith’s father had been a student of Maxwell at Aberdeen.
Callander was invited to dine at the Royal Society and he was also invited in 2008 to the unveiling of the new statue of JCM with his little dog Toby – the first statue to be raised in George Street, Edinburgh, in 98 years. This was an event that brought Callander huge pleasure and pride.
Callander presented a dapper kilted figure on many occasions at various Edinburgh venues, when concerts, plays and exhibitions were organised by the JCM Foundation to raise awareness of Maxwell and funds to buy the Birthplace.
One ambition dear to him and not achieved in his lifetime was for the UK to achieve a commemorative postage stamp featuring Maxwell. To his disappointment Royal Mail has not yet obliged, but Callander did have his own stamp collection – stamps from other countries featuring the great man.
James Clerk Maxwell was not the whole story of Callander’s life. His great energy and enthusiasm for the life of the community of Parton rightly earned him the local sobriquet “Mr Parton”. His many interests included amateur dramatics, gardening; stamp collecting; photography; Scottish country dancing; wine-making (well, he tried!). His interest in local history also involved him as a founder and committed member of the Galloway Preservation Society.
Throughout Callander’s life, his personal religious beliefs were important to him – as was the case with Clerk Maxwell. Callander was a faithful servant of the Kirk in Parton, being ordained elder in 1951 and serving for over 60 years. Other offices he held within the Kirk over the decades included Sunday school superintendent, beadle, bell ringer and treasurer. He also held the post of village hall keeper for over 60 years.
In all these activities, interests and involvements in the life of Parton village and the wider setting of Dumfries and Galloway, Sam will be remembered for his quiet and unassuming manner, his gentle sense of humour and the twinkle in his eye.
It was standing room only for Callander in Parton Kirk: he will be sorely missed by many. He is survived by his younger brother Jim and his sister-in-law Betty.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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