Obituary: Peter Wilson, Edinburgh Corporation councillor, first elected convenor of Lothian Regional Council

Peter Wilson, customer service manager and council convenor. Born: 17 August, 1929 in Edinburgh. Died: 17 April, 2018 in Edinburgh, aged 88.
Peter WilsonPeter Wilson
Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson was a natural for entering public service – he had an instinctive sense of duty and care and was driven by a desire to help others.

He also understood what it was like to cope in difficult circumstances, having gone out to work at 14 to support his family, and went on to devote more than half a century to various forms of voluntary work and welfare advising, becoming the youngest Edinburgh magistrate and the first convenor and leader of Lothian Regional Council.

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Born in Edinburgh, he was the middle of three children to Nora Wilson and her husband Peter, a motor mechanic, who left his wife and family when their children were very young.

Raised in the city’s Upper Grove Place, young Peter attended Bruntsfield Primary and sometimes played with a young Sean Connery, both boys helping with the milk cart deliveries.

Those early years following his parents’ break-up were hard enough but were then followed by the death of his mother at a relatively young age. The schoolboy, who was evacuated to Athelstaneford during the Second World War, continued his education there in East Lothian, going on to Knox Academy, Haddington before returning to the Scots capital and Boroughmuir Secondary.

He lived with an aunt and uncle until leaving home and during his National Service served initially with the Black Watch and then with Royal Signals in Ciphers and Signals’ security, West Germany. He remained in the Emergency Reserve for a further 10 years.

Employed as a telegraphist and sorting clerk with the Post Office, he moved up to become a British Telecom customer service manager. Meanwhile determined to improve the life chances of others, he became a Labour councillor, winning a seat on Edinburgh Corporation in 1958.

He had first become interested in voluntary and welfare work while working at the Post Office and after his election to the council, aged 29, he became the then youngest magistrate for the city.

Wilson served with the Corporation until reorganisation and during the early 1970s was involved in preparing for the new local authority framework, as chairman of the local government steering committee.

In 1974 he was voted on to the newly formed Lothian Regional Council and became its first elected convenor, serving a four-year tenure. Latterly he served as a Social Democratic Party councillor, having defected to the SDP in the early 1980s in protest over 50% rates rises – a courageous move as he was finance chairman at the time.

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During his local government career he served an all local authority committees – welfare, social work, police, finance, policy and resources – and was a member of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

He was also honorary treasurer of the Council of European Municipalities’ (CEM) British section and an executive member of the CEM’s General Council.

In addition he sat on the European Consultative Committee on regional policy, the European Working Party on environmental problems and the European Islands and Mountainous area committee which he also chaired.

His other appointments included deputy chairman of Livingston Development Corporation, a role in which he took great pride, and a seat on Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Associated Hospitals Board of Management.

He also put his Post Office and Telecoms experience to good use as chairman of the Lothian and Borders Post Office and Telecommunication Advisory Committee and the Lothian and Borders Postwatch Advisory Group. And in his own community he chaired the Neighbourhood Watch committee and had been chairman of his local residents’ association for 20 years.

The care and welfare of the elderly were issues close to his heart in he was instrumental in campaigning for free bus travel in Edinburgh, where he lived in Morningside for the last 35 years.

After the death of his first wife Margaret, he remarried in 1974 to Chicago-born Shirley. Both were shareholders in Heart of Midlothian Football Club and spent many happy hours together at Tynecastle.

Wilson, who had been a loyal Hearts supporter all his life, was also a fan of fishing, philately, and all things Scottish but loved travelling with Shirley, particularly to her homeland of the USA.

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A man who thrived on supporting and being proactive in many organisations until an advanced age, latterly found his activities curtailed by a stroke last year. He did however retain his sense of humour, ability to indulge in friendly banter and a wit described as “drier than sawdust”.

He is survived by Shirley, his children Vivien, Rhona, Murdo and Ian, step-children Laura and Scott and extended family.


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