Very Rev W Roy Sanderson

Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Born: 23 September, 1907, in Leith.

Died: 19 June, 2008, in Dunbar, aged 100.

FOR a quarter of a century from the early 1920s, the most dominant minister in the Church of Scotland was John White, minister of the Barony in Glasgow. In 1939, the congregation was looking for a colleague who would in time succeed Mr White as minister of the historic church. Largely at Mr White's instigation, Roy Sanderson was chosen, then a young minister who had spent four years in Lochgelly, and whose work in the coalfields of west Fife had become known throughout the Church. Mr White described him as "alive to the problems of the hour".

Roy Sanderson was to succeed John White not only in the pulpit of the Barony, but as leader of the Kirk's General Assembly and as Moderator in 1967.

Sanderson was born in Leith. His grandfather, William Sanderson, had invented VAT69 whisky. His father, who joined the family firm, was killed in action at Gallipoli when Roy was just eight. Educated at Cargilfield, Edinburgh Academy and Oriel College Oxford, Sanderson decided to become a minister of the Church of Scotland. After training at New College Edinburgh he became an assistant in St Giles' Cathedral, and was ordained there in 1933. He was then called to St Andrews Lochgelly, where he stayed for four years before joining Mr White in the Barony in 1939.

He signed up with the Church of Scotland's huts and canteens service in 1940 and shortly afterwards had to be evacuated from St Malo following the fall of France.

Returning to parish duties in Glasgow he became an air raid warden in Kelvinside, and was on duty during the Clydebank blitz in March 1941, when he rescued the occupiers of a tenement where an unexploded bomb had lodged under the roof.

Once the war was over, Sanderson threw himself into parish work in the Barony, where one of his duties was to marry a couple who were to become the parents of Tony Blair. He was particularly interested in attempting to involve men who had returned from active service in the life of the Church.

He also took an active part in the work of the Presbytery of Glasgow, loyally supporting his friend George MacLeod, who wanted to combine his leadership of the fledging Iona Community with a return to the pulpit of Govan Old. Typically, this did not prevent him either from opposing his old colleague John White or allowing their disagreement to cause any rupture in their close friendship.

In ecclesiastical politics and affairs, Sanderson was, above all, a conciliator. He had an unerring ability to see where two sides in a conflict could find a compromise, and he had the even greater ability of being able to express that compromise in a way which won wide acceptance. This made him a naturally brilliant leader of the General Assembly. When the Church could have divided over the ordination of women, Sanderson was a calming influence whose integrity was accepted by both sides. When the Church was invited to criticise freemasonry, Sanderson, though sympathetic to the masonic order, took a moderate, conciliatory position.

From the early 1950s, as well as becoming Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery in 1958, Sanderson chaired a succession of Assembly committees: the youth committee, the panel on doctrine, the committee on deaconesses and, from 1965-72 the general administration committee. He consequently took convenership of the business committee of the General Assembly, which carried with it the leadership of the Assembly. In that role he towered over everyone in the Assembly.

In 1963 Sanderson moved from Glasgow to the East Lothian parishes of Stenton and Whittinghame, where the rural community was very different from the Barony parish, but in which he became involved equally enthusiastically. He retired in 1973 but continued to serve the presbytery as its moderator and in a succession of vacant parishes.

When the late Professor William Barclay was impulsively nominated as Moderator of the Assembly of 1967 and characteristically refused, it was natural that the Church should have turned to Sanderson, whose nomination was only a matter of time. He chaired the General Assembly with real authority, and during his year of office visited Kenya and Ghana but refused to go to South Africa because a visit there would have involved courtesy calls on church and secular leaders who supported apartheid.

Sanderson was a chaplain to the Queen. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. He was a member of the Scottish Religious Advisory Committee of the BBC and the Central Religious Advisory Committee of the BBC and ITV and a governor of Fettes College

He was an unfailingly gracious, clear-thinking and persuasive church leader who contributed enormously to the Church of Scotland's life.

His wife, Muriel, died several years ago, and he is survived by three sons, a daughter (another died in 2001), nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.