Obituary: Rev Bill Bristow, army and hospital chaplain, headmaster and care home chairman
Padre Bill Bristow passed away peacefully at home after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was truly a people person who always showed care and compassion for those in need and help when and where he could.
Bill was born in Coatbridge and he and brother Bob were brought up by grandparents Bill and Isabella Greenway, whom they affectionately called Mum and Dad. They encouraged Bill’s musical gifts – he became an accomplished tenor singer and played piano and organ. Later he learned the bagpipes and violin
Much to his grandmother’s upset at age 18, being keen to play his part for King and Country, he enlisted in the Navy, trained as a signalman, and was subsequently posted to Lowestoft. He was attached to Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 497, which was involved in one of the last English Channel battles of the Second World War. It was the horror of this conflict that later led him to pursue the church as a vocation.
After demob he married Betty Hayes and went to Aberdeen Kings College to study divinity. He was ordained in 1951 and became assistant minister to Dr Baird at St Machar’s Cathedral Aberdeen and subsequently minister at Haugh of Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire.
He rejoined the military as an Army chaplain (Padre) in 1954, attached to the Scots guards, Highland Light Infantry (HLI) and Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, with postings to West Germany.
Bill enjoyed postings attached to Scottish regiments – he was very much a Scotsman and relished playing the bagpipes. While with the HLI he was invited by the Pipe Major to play his pipes along with the pipe band on a 25-mile march through Belgium. He felt honoured at being asked and hadn’t quite realised his true fitness – somehow he managed the march despite suffering badly blistered, bleeding feet.
In 1966 he was posted back to Aberdeen to the “Gordon Barracks” Bridge of Don and retired from the chaplaincy in 1970 at 44.
In Aberdeen in 1973 he graduated in teaching English and Special Education and accepted a post at St Andrews special education school, Inverurie. He enjoyed the challenges of teaching children in severe need of help. There were a few amusing experiences. On his first day at the school all the children seemed intent on his lesson, crowding around his desk. However, this had been a collective ploy to conceal the fact that one boy was busy removing all the cupboard doors. It was only when the class bell rang and everyone had scarpered that all was revealed – all the doors were neatly stacked, along with all the screws.
His personal connection with the Argyll, Southend and Campbeltown area started in 1960 when his late brother Bob and grandmother Isabella moved from Coatbridge to Machrihanish. After this the Bristow family became familiar visitors at their holiday home in the Southend area.
In 1978 he accepted a teaching post at the then “Meadows School” in Campbeltown and was ultimately head teacher, retiring in 1991. During this period he helped set up a riding for the disabled project and was chairman of Auchinlee care home committee for many years.
On retiring as head teacher he became chaplain at Campbeltown Hospital and subsequently accepted long-term locum positions on the islands of Gigha and Islay. During this time he was Moderator of the Argyll Presbytery for one year. He was finally forced to retire at age 83 due to advancing Parkinson’s disease.
Later in life he found love again and married Margaret Johnston, nee Kennedy, who was from the Haugh of Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire. They shared many happy years together and her care and love of Bill during advancing Parkinson’s was truly exemplary.
He is survived by Margaret and daughters Wendy, Mairi and grandsons David and Alistair, stepson Craig and great-grandchildren Emily and Charlie. He will be very sadly missed by family and friends.
Bill’s funeral was held at Southend Parish church on 29 January. The service was conducted by Rev Steve Fulcher with a representative from the Royal Army Chaplaincy department, Padre Stewart Young. The service was very well attended by many dear friends and familiar faces, with Piper John McGeachy and the Royal British legion at Keil Cemetery graveside.
The family wish to thank all for their donations to Parkinson’s UK. More than £500 was collected at the church service alone, with more from family and friends.