Obituary: William A Smith, BEM, FEIS, former councillor and Provost of Lerwick
Born: On 20 August, 1919, in Hamnavoe, Burra Isle, Shetland. Died: 5 September, 2012, in Lerwick, aged 93.
Bill Smith was born on Burra Isle, the youngest of seven children, of whom just four survived to adulthood. His father was a fisherman who discouraged his sons from taking any interest in what was then an unrewarding occupation. So, after completing primary and early secondary schooling in Hamnavoe, he completed his secondary education at the Anderson Educational Institute in Lerwick.
Unable to sustain two children at university together, the family agreed he should seek employment and in 1937 Bill commenced work with the Post Office Engineering Department as a telephone engineer – an employment he was to pursue for his whole working life until his retirement in 1983, with the exception of the war years.
His telecommunications work took him to every corner of Shetland and enabled him to witness and contribute to the enormous developments that took place over the second half of the last century. He knew and became known to so many Shetlanders from his work in repairing and installing phones as well as his dealings with the many rural, manually operated telephone exchanges that preceded automation.
That experience gave him many insights into the needs of small communities that he deployed in his later work as a councillor.
In 1961, he was awarded the British Empire Medal for ser-vices to the community and telecommunications. The previous winter he and a colleague had battled through deep snowdrifts to attend the Scousburgh Hill facility in order to keep open vital radio links between Shetland and the outside world. There they were stranded for three days and nights.
In 1939, he was called to join the Royal Corps of Signals and after training at Catterick he left the UK on Boxing Day 1940, not returning to the country again until 1945. During the war years he saw service in the Western Desert, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Burma (being awarded the Burma Star), India and finally Germany. He spoke very little of that period, but would mention the surreal atmosphere of the featureless desert, involvement in the relief of Tobruk, and the unpleasantness of the climate and the tensions surrounding their retreat from Burma into India, ahead of the advancing Japanese forces.
He did acknowledge that his war experiences broadened his horizons beyond the confines of Shetland, influenced his political thinking on a number of issues and helped him recognise many of the similarities among the lives of ordinary people in very diverse circumstances and locations.
Returning to civilian life and his work with the GPO (later BT), he married his wife Daisy in 1948, to whom he remained devoted until her death in 2005 after 57 years of marriage. They settled in Lerwick and had four sons, Colin, Norman, Ronnie and Peter. He was deeply affected by the premature death of his son Norman in a road accident in 1991 and was very supportive of all his family at that time. A keen family man, he took a great interest in the work and achievements of his sons and daughters-in-law and their families. He is survived by eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
In 1967, he moved into a new field of work after election as a Labour councillor to Lerwick Town Council and Zetland County Council. He was soon appointed a Justice of the Peace and from 1971 to 1974 he served as the penultimate Provost of Lerwick. On the reorganisation of local government in 1975, he became a member of Shetland Islands Council and was re-elected repeatedly until his retirement from local government in 1997.
As a councillor he was heavily involved in many of the key decisions concerning the arrival of the oil industry, but his deepest interest was in education, probably motivated by the denial of opportunity he had experienced at the end of his school career.
Bill chaired the Shetland education committee for 23 years from 1972 to 1995, and was a consistent and powerful advocate for good quality educational opportunities for all young people, irrespective of their circumstances. Under his stewardship, Shetland experienced a golden era of improvement in school and further education college provision across the islands, as well as generous material and staff resourcing.
The service in Shetland became the envy of many and this was due, not just to oil wealth, but his dogged determination to ensure the benefits were widely shared and served to maximise educational opportunity.
His record of service to education was acknowledged in 1991 with the award of the degree of Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland on the nomination of the Shetland local association, for having rendered “signal service to the cause of education”. This was an honour of which he was immensely proud, coming from a profession whose contribution he highly valued and respected.
His interests in public life were numerous. As a trustee for many years, he took a keen interest in the work of the Shetland Recreational Trust and served for many years on Lerwick Harbour Trust. He was also a member of the Electricity Consultative Council, the Convention of Northern Burghs, the Shetland Health Board and education committee of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Beyond his record of public service which stretched, in one form or another, from 1937 to 1997, he was a witty and entertaining character, always ready to have a conversation and share a joke – even a song. Above all, he had a strong commitment to justice and fairness and a passion for helping those in need of support, taking a genuine interest in individuals.
Right up until his death, he retained a sharp intellect, a keen interest in local politics and enthusiasm for crosswords – finally winning The Scotsman prize crossword only weeks before his 93rd birthday, after many years of entering.
He leaves a considerable legacy to the community in Shetland where his standing was evidenced by the large turnout at his funeral on 10 September and the Shetland flag flying at half-mast from the Town Hall.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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