Obituary: Gerry Douds, teacher and writer

Gerry Douds, a passionate teacher and historian with a well-earned reputation as a bon viveur.  Picture: Contributed
Gerry Douds, a passionate teacher and historian with a well-earned reputation as a bon viveur. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 8 September, 1940, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 July, 2014, at Bartestree, near Hereford, aged 73.

Near the end of last month Gerry Douds died after a mercifully short period of cruel and wasting illness which he bore bravely.

Not far from his home near Suckley in Worcestershire he was buried to the sound of a piper’s lament. No other accompaniment for his passing would have been conceivable.

Douds was a piper himself as well as a proud and patriotic Scot but one who loved deeply the beautiful county where he settled with his wife Betty in 1972.

He was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Boness where his father ran a successful drapery business. He had three elder brothers and with them he shared the tragedy of their mother Martha’s untimely death in 1960.

He attended St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow, which was not an experience he recalled with any great warmth, leaving as soon as he could and without any qualifications for higher education. This was something which in due course he would remedy in style.

As a teenager Douds was drawn to Scottish nationalist politics in West Lothian and he always had lively tales to tell of his work there for the cause.

All his life he treasured a copy of The Rebel Ceilidh Songbook, which originated from a Boness pub and he could belt out songs from it like The Destiny Stane and many others.

He also took up piping and remained a player for the rest of his life. After a period in his father’s business he moved to London and to a variety of employment there, including delivering toilet fittings in a van.

He sometimes talked of hazardous journeys with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a tattered A to Z street guide to the city.

He kept up his piping and also managed to play some rugby for the London Scottish before deciding to return home to study for his university entrance. He achieved this without any difficulty and began a History degree at Edinburgh University in 1965.

One of his first decisions there was to join the Officer Training Corps in order to play in its pipe band and also, as he often said, to belong to the best drinking club in the university.

That was certainly the impression formed at once by any who were late evening guests of the OTC at its Forest Road drill hall bar after pubs like Sandy Bell’s and the Abbotsford had closed their doors.

Gerry’s time at Edinburgh University was one that changed his life in no small measure due to the teaching of scholars like Sam Shepperson, Ian Duffield and Victor Kiernan.

The last named became Gerry’s PhD supervisor when he later registered for post-graduate work.

British policy towards the Indian princely states prior to independence and partition became Gerry’s area of study and it became the basis for some groudbreaking courses he later devised and taught on the politics and culture of imperialism.

Eventually visiting India both for further study and on one last holiday with Betty were hugely enjoyable experiences for him.

He was awarded his doctorate in 1980 but by then he had arrived in Worcester with Betty whom he had met and married in Edinburgh. This was in 1972 when work came his way in a local college but he was so short of cash that Betty remembers him twice doing summer labouring in a brickworks.

That a college of education in the fullness of time became University College Worcester owed much to Gerry’s tireless work as an administrator as well as a head of department but he was always an eloquent and passionate teacher.

He wrote superbly and could have published more than he did had it not been for his total commitment to both students and colleagues. In retirement, however, he began to add to an output of fine articles and contributions to edited books.

Also in September 2006 he gave a memorable address at the biennial dinner commemorating the 1651 battle of Worcester and the many Scots who fell there in the Stuart cause.

Being Gerry, he also entertained the assembled company with his pipes. He loved collegiate life and also that of the Open University, to which he made an outstanding contribution as a tutor.

He was also indispensable to the often uproarious camaraderie of its many summer schools for he was an unsurpassed wit and raconteur – indeed “a fellow of infinite jest” as Hamlet said of “poor Yorick”.

Gerry, however, had an unerring eye for those who failed to buy their round. This was, in his view, a heinous offence. To counter this, he acquired a set of laminated cards, similar in design to the famous one that appears in the opening chapter of Treasure Island. Recipients either left the scene or made immediate amends at the bar.

Gerry could make very rapid judgements of those he met but if he liked you then you were in for life. He had a huge capacity for friendship and the hospitality given by him and Betty to guests at their lovely home was legendary.

They were very much a part of the community they had joined among whom, as Betty puts it, they played bad golf together as well as supporting many local ventures.

Betty became a kenspeckle figure, working for many years as secretary to the local primary school. She held office too in the Women’s Rural Institute and in the national charity, Riding for the Disabled, in which she continues to be active.

Douds, almost as soon as he arrived, joined Worcester county cricket club and saw some glory days when players like Basil D’Oliveira, Glen Turner and Graham Hick were there.

His sons, Kenneth and Alistair, of whom he was hugely proud, would often be with him. He seemed to know everyone in the club and probably did.

Douds was someone who liked to join in, whether it was cricket, competitive rowing on the Severn and other rivers or trips back to Edinburgh to see Hibernian in action.

His first love, however, was always for Betty, Kenneth and Alistair. Their loss is a most grievous one and it is shared by all of us who knew Gerry Douds as a fine scholar, a valued colleague and a good friend to whom we all raise a parting glass.