Real lives: Janitor who kept school open in worst of winter

An Edinburgh primary school janitor who fought through the snow every day to ensure it stayed open throughout the deep freeze over the winter has had his efforts praised by First Minister Alex Salmond.

Earlier this month Mr Salmond wrote to George Paraskevakis, who works at St Peter's RC Primary School, thanking him for going above and beyond the call of duty during Scotland's third coldest winter since 1914. While the thick snow made many of the roads treacherous and forced other schools to close, the 64-year-old, who lives in Tollcross, made the 55-minute journey on foot to ensure the school was safe for staff and pupils to use.

Mr Paraskevakis, who has been with St Peter's for seven years, worked hard to clear the perimeter and grounds of the school and ensured paths were salted at all times. While others have praised his actions, he insisted that he was just doing his job.

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"Over the winter time I didn't like to see my school closed, so worked hard when other schools were closing left, right and centre," he said. "It's not just for the kids but for most parents. Both of them usually have to work to make ends meet. If the school's not open then kid's aren't the only ones who suffer."

And while he admitted had initially thought Mr Salmond's letter was a political pamphlet, and almost threw it in the bin, Mr Paraskevakis said he was now proud of the recognition.

"I'm very happy with it and got it framed as I'm going to retire in a year and so I'd like to keep it for the memory," he said. "I've always been someone who gets bored easily so I always keep the school gleaming. Even in the holidays I come in and varnish the doors."

He continued: "I love children and I don't have any problems with vandalism because the kids see how much I go out of my way - they would do anything for me."

Mr Paraskevakis, who is originally from the Greek island of Crete, first came to Edinburgh in 1963 to study civil engineering. While he was studying English before undertaking his training he met his wife Morag. They fell and love and married, much to the displeasure of Mr Paraskevakis' parents, who cut him off financially, meaning his plans to study had to be abandoned.

He said: "I had to get a job straight away and I got one at Crawford's Biscuit Factory in Leith."

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After the factory moved to Glasgow, he decided to stay in Edinburgh to raise his four children. He worked in "a lot of different jobs" before being employed by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1997, which lead to his current post at St Peter's.

Head teacher Therese Laing said: "We are delighted that George has been recognised for his hard work and dedication through one of the worst winters on record.

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She added: "I would personally like to thank George for consistently going the extra mile...He is a credit to the school and should be very proud of his achievements."