Listening to the legendary radio station Radio Luxembourg may seem an unlikely catalyst for the humanitarian work that led to David Arthur’s pivotal role in the development of Scotland’s Samaritans service.
Although more recently associated with rock and pop music, in the 1950s it was an influential broadcaster, attracting huge audiences across Europe and in Britain. While tuning in to one of its more serious Sunday evening programmes, the Edinburgh University history graduate and teacher heard about an Anglican priest’s scheme to tackle suicide.
Soon after listening to Chad Varah, the London clergyman featured in the broadcast, Arthur spotted a Scotsman article in which the cleric invited correspondence from anyone in Scotland interested in forming a helpline for those contemplating suicide.
He responded and a week later Varah rang and asked him to organise a funeral for someone who had committed suicide. Following a subsequent meeting with other readers who had volunteered, a Samaritans telephone service was launched in Edinburgh.
Arthur went on to devote more than 40 years to the cause, serving as its chairman and being made an MBE for his contribution. In tandem he pursued a challenging career in teaching, worked in fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and became a well-known figure in Helensburgh where he initially taught and returned to as headmaster.
Born in Kikuyu, Kenya, where his father was a Church of Scotland medical missionary, he began his education there at boarding school in Turi before the family returned to Scotland in 1937. He briefly attended St Trinnean’s in Edinburgh but completed most of his school years at Loretto School.
During his studies at Edinburgh University he met his future wife Mary and they married in 1954, in the middle of his two years’ National Service. The bridegroom was stationed in Germany, where he returned after the honeymoon.
His initial career plan had involved ambitions in the Foreign Office and a role as governor in an outpost of the British Empire, a prospect put paid to when the Empire no longer existed. As a result, his vocation became teaching.
His first post was at Larchfield School, Helensburgh, in 1955, followed by a move to Edinburgh’s Melville College and then to Aberdeen as head of history at Robert Gordon’s College.
From there he went as deputy headmaster to Stirling High School before becoming the first headmaster at Cumbernauld’s Greenfaulds High School, which opened in 1971.
More than 20 years after he began his teaching career in the town, he returned to Helensburgh as headmaster of Lomond, a new co-educational day and boarding school formed in 1977 from the amalgamation of Larchfield and St Bride’s Schools.
Once the merger had been successfully achieved, he moved on to organise fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, spurred into action by the experiences of friends whose children had the condition.
His desire to help others stemmed from his early life and the influence of missionary work. Although unsure if he could adopt his parents’ faith, he yearned to help humanity and the emergence of Chad Varah’s crusade to combat suicides proved the impetus.
The response to his Scotsman article resulted in a meeting of like-minded readers at the RSPCC offices in Edinburgh’s Melville Street. Arthur, a rugby fanatic who had played full back for Edinburgh Wanderers from 1956 to 1962, attended the gathering that led to the establishment of the Samaritans telephone service in the city in 1959.
From then on he was heavily involved in the initiative, taking his turn on call and in 1970, along with Mary, starting the correspondence branch.
He was made an MBE in 1998 for services to the organisation and in 2009 attended a reception and exhibition in Edinburgh City Chambers marking the 50th anniversary of the Samaritans in Scotland.
Five years later, Arthur, a former Helensburgh Rotary Club president and director of Helensburgh Heritage Trust, had a book, An Avenue in Time, published. It covered the remarkable life of his father and his legacy in Kenya, his own achievements and a history of various parts of Scotland.
In it he reflected on the changes he had experienced, observing: “In my lifetime I have lived in a house with no electricity, no TV, no computer. I have dipped my pen in an inkwell, had my teeth extracted without an injection, and driven a car that had running boards and flip-flop indicators.
“I have had to make arrangements with the bank manager to draw money on holiday, and yet can now take it from the machine in the wall.
“Will my grandchildren see a world which is so different for them as the one we have today? That is what looking back is all about, not the queens, the squires, the bankers and the politicians, but the little simple things of our own lives that have changed.”
Arthur, whose dedication undoubtedly transformed and saved lives, was predeceased by his wife and their youngest child Catriona.
He is survived by their daughters Gillian and Seonaid,five grandchildren and a great grandson.