Peter Cassidy, who has died aged 68, was one of Scotland’s most visionary social workers. He brought intellectual muscle, powerful compassion and a refreshing openness to a public service which does not always enjoy public esteem and yet must deal with our most troubled and vulnerable citizens.
His career culminated as director of social work for Aberdeen, where he spent five reforming years, during which he modernised his department from top to bottom. While there he also had to handle a tragedy which shocked the nation.
Peter Delaney Cassidy (the middle name was a tribute to the legendary Celtic winger of the inter-war years) was born in Dundee to Jessie and Peter snr, a railwayman. The family livedin Perth.
A bright boy, Peter excelled at Lawside Academy and in 1967, that vintage year for all baby boomers, he became the first person in his street to go to university, to Edinburgh, where he studied psychology.
Earlier that year two other events took place which had a profound effect on Peter.
First, he rescued a drowning young man from the River Tay, for which he received a Royal Humane Society award.
Secondly, to his and his family’s delight, Celtic reached the final of what was then the European Cup. This was before the era of cheap air travel, so Peter and his close friend Tommy Campbell hitch-hiked the 1800 miles to Lisbon, saw the match, and thumbed their way back. As the years have passed many thousands have claimed to have been in the Stadium of Light on that sunny evening. In Peter’s case there is photographic evidence of his exuberant dancing on the pitch with his father, who flew out at the last minute to join the boys. The picture appears in Pat Woods’ and David Frier’s book, We’ll Always Have Lisbon – Celtic’s Glory Year 1967. To say Peter was chuffed with this recognition is an understatement.
After university, Peter started as a basic grade social worker in Leith. He moved to Midlothian, where he met and married Trish (nee Oddy) in 1984, and then to West Lothian. By this time his considerable abilities had been recognised and he gained more senior roles. He was senior depute director of social work in Fife for eight years before going to Aberdeen.
In Aberdeen, among other initiatives, he canvassed the public for their views on social work in the city, appointed a full time children’s rights officer for children in care, introduced a system which gave those with learning difficulties assistance if interviewed by the police, and encouraged pub owners to collaborate with the social work department in helping those with alcohol problems. So enthusiastic was Peter about this idea some publicans thought he was a prohibitionist. Peter had to convince them he liked a drink as much as most people.
His biggest challenge in Aberdeen was the case of Scott Simpson, the nine-year old boy abducted and murdered by a convicted paedophile who had been freed on licence.
This shocking event had far reaching implications for both the social work department and the local police. The reverberations were felt across the country in every social work office and police force.
Unusually, Peter commissioned an independent rather than an internal report, which was published in full, the recommendations of which have since become standard procedure in such cases. Peter, Trish, their three daughters, Laura, Sarah and Rose, and a dog called Cassie, lived in Banchory. Their lives took a tragic turn when Trish died in 2001 aged just 52.
This was a pivotal moment for Peter. He stepped down from his job in Aberdeen to set up a consultancy which allowed him to devote the time he would need to bring up the girls. His children have all followed Peter into the caring professions. The arrival of grandchildren Cormac and Miriam brought him great happiness.
Given his abilities and experience, his consultancy did well. For a host of government and local authority agencies he was the ‘go-to’ expert.
Peter had a deep Catholic faith and during the 90s presented the religious programme In Confidence for Grampian and STV.
A noted trencherman, in his younger days he loved nothing more than testing the limits of all-you-can-eat restaurants. His love of music was eclectic and friends would often receive anonymous compilation CDs with just a Post-It bearing the message “You’ll like this.” Invariably they did.
Two years ago Peter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in Edinburgh and was buried in Banchory beside Trish.