Obituary: Jim Smith, changed the way psychological services are delivered in Scotland and campaigned for the Borders countryside

Jim Smith changed the way psychological services are delivered in Scotland and campaigned for the Borders countryside
Jim Smith changed the way psychological services are delivered in Scotland and campaigned for the Borders countryside
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Born: 19 May, 1943, in Prestwick. Died: 26 January, 2012, in Melrose, aged 68

James Douglas Smith (Jim) was an educational psychologist who changed the way psychological services are delivered in Scotland. Highly respected as a practising psychologist, he also had a gift for quietly bringing together effective people to tackle problems. He formed an association for educational psychologists, helped start a charity to bring live music to frail elderly people, and was a founding member of a political party in the Scottish Borders.

As a boy growing up in Lochmaben he alarmed his parents by not doing homework until after bed-time. His mother raised this with the minister, who replied that he did the same thing. So his habit of staying up through the night grew, constantly researching and looking for ways to make things – all sorts of things – better.

After studying psychology at Strathclyde University, and becoming Master of Education from Glasgow University, Smith relished being sent to one of the most difficult schools in Scotland. Rising to the challenge, he was held in great affection by many: more than 20 years later, two former pupils spotted him in the distance and broke into a run exclaiming: “It’s Mr Smith!”

As well as setting up evening literacy courses for adults in Glasgow, he started SALGEP, the Scottish Association for Local and Government Educational Psychologists, whose forward-thinking committee transformed the development of educational psychology in Scotland.

In 1978 he became the principal educational psychologist in Shetland, a place he adored, and where over the following eight years he turned a patchy department into one of the best in Scotland, setting up the Profoundly Special Needs Unit at Bells Brae.

Moving to the Borders he took up a post as principal educational psychologist with Borders Regional Council, and after retirement continued to practise across Scotland, specialising in the assessment of adults with dyslexia, who were often unaware of their condition.

His meticulous reports helped many to reinvigorate their careers, or to escape dismissal. To him this work was not just about helping people with difficulties, but about bringing out the best in them, and he delighted in telling of the special gifts he discovered in those who had been written off at school.

In 2001 he helped found Harmony, a remarkable charity which now regularly brings live music to thousands of frail and lonely older people across the Borders, and which last year won the Queen’s Golden Jubilee award for Voluntary Service.

When Sir Walter Scott’s former Abbotsford estate was threatened by a new town, Smith became secretary of Save Scott’s Countryside, the campaign group which successfully saw off development there, and at seven further sites in the central Tweed valley.

Determined that the Borders should benefit from change and not be damaged by it, he went on to help found the Borders Party in 2006, an independent political party dedicated solely to serving the Scottish Borders Council area. According to another founding member Smith was “the ultimate secretary, keeping us all up to the mark with immaculate paperwork at every stage and sharply written minutes”.

He inherited and restored Smithfield, his family’s property in Prestwick since the early 1300s. Smith’s direct forebear received the Heritable Freedom of Prestwick for helping to hide the fleeing King Robert the Bruce.

Smith’s maxim was honesty, integrity and service, always doing what he could for others, with an infectious sense of fun. He is survived by Ann, his childhood sweetheart and wife, their two children, Alison and Douglas, who inherits the Freedom of Prestwick, and four grandchildren.