George Dewar

George DewarGeorge Dewar
George Dewar
Obituary: George Dewar, Classics master and sports coach who influenced generations of pupils in classroom and on sports field

‘He was born to teach Latin, some Greek, and all virtue”.

So Lord Cockburn described Alexander Adam, renowned rector of Edinburgh’s High School more than two centuries ago... but his words apply equally to George “Jock” Dewar, also eminent Classics Master at The High School.

George was born and raised in Inverkeithing and from an early age showed the razor-sharp intellect, earnest studiousness and phenomenal memory that would be his hallmarks. He attended Dunfermline High School, where he was a regular prizewinner, narrowly missing out on the Dux prize in his final year, and easily secured a place at the University of Edinburgh to study Classics. When, some years later, he won the class medal, his professor praised his incisive thinking and gift for communication. Although Jock would have succeeded in any career, he recognised the importance of education and decided to enter the teaching profession, seeing it not as an occupation but as a vocation.

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However, just a few weeks into his university studies, and days after his 18th birthday in 1943, his call-up papers were received, and the next four years were spent with the army. After a spell with the Royal Corps of Signals, Jock’s facility with languages was noted and he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps, which included a brief spell at Bletchley Park before he was transferred to the Middle East. His anxious mother was pleased to receive a note asking her to send on his civvies, believing this meant Jock was away from, rather than heading into, dangerous situations!

War service over, Jock returned to his studies. Though he left his army days behind him – and seldom talked of his exploits – the name he acquired there, “Jock”, remained with him to the end, enabling him to claim, with a typically self-deprecating chortle, that he’d become a four-letter word.

Jock did everything with precision and energy. Even whilst on basic army training, members of Jock’s company would rush to get to the front rank to prevent “Whisky” Dewar from leading them off… because he marched far too quickly. Typically, Jock was a crack shot, winning shooting competitions in the army – skills he claimed he’d honed at Inverkeithing’s Lammas Fair. Once, when stationed in the high security diplomatic quarter in Beirut, he decided that firing a shot in the air would be the best way to clean the barrel of his pistol. In the ensuing high security alert Jock, for once in his life, kept a low profile.

Jock’s teaching career began in Kilmarnock Academy and in 1957 he moved to the Royal High School, where he remained until he retired, making an enormous difference to the lives of pupils throughout 30 years of dedicated service. It wasn’t just in the classroom – though many scholars have toasted the excellence of Jock’s teaching of Classics – it was also beyond the walls of the classroom that Jock educated his pupils, exemplifying the commitment and service he expected from them. Through music appreciation, swimming, athletics, basketball, International Youth camps, summer football and, particularly, rugby, Jock dedicated himself to, and engaged with, his pupils. Though he believed in discipline and order, he was also good fun and loved to talk. Generations of pupils knew that an innocently framed inquiry about last Saturday’s rugby match meant they could dodge at least 20 minutes of Latin on a Monday morning.

It was at the Royal High School that he earned the nickname “Badger”, by which he was affectionately known thereafter. This was not, as he claimed, a conflation of “Bad Dewar” – the result of his exacting standards – but because his black and white striped rugby top, combined with his build and facial features, made him look like a badger!

Jock’s love of exactitude was legendary, taking in everything from pencil markings on the wall to ensure the desks were properly aligned to the care given to polishing shoes and precise timings for the grinding of his coffee beans. Once, when asked how far his home was from school, he replied, “3.627 miles... approximately.” His meticulous record keeping of just about anything meant he could nurture and encourage sporting talent in his pupils, particularly in athletics and swimming. He was far ahead of his time in using data to improve sporting performance, which was a significant factor in ensuring his team won the Inter-Nation Crichton Cup every year that he was in charge.

Jock contributed massively to rugby at The Royal High School, ensuring the school played a brand of fast, running rugby that was decades ahead of its time. Hundreds of rugby players – including some who won Scottish caps – learnt their rugby basics from Jock.

He continued to coach and referee until well into his sixties, and until he was nearly 80 he gave his support from the touchline, his stentorian voice easily recognised above any incidental crowd noise. And only last year, when Dave Rennie of Glasgow Warriors announced he was leaving as coach, there was a post on the BBC that read “Send for Badger of The Royal High!” Jock enjoyed the joke hugely.

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When he retired in 1987 the school’s annual report paid fulsome tribute, concluding: “the contribution of a teacher is not to be judged solely in terms of classroom instruction or of leadership in sports and clubs, but rather in overall influence as a human being on young people. On this count Jock must be rated amongst the best.”

One of Jock’s passions was music. He attended the very first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, shortly after being demobbed – and every one thereafter. Not only did he attend concerts but, decades later, he could recall with amazing clarity the details of each performance, down to the conductor, the soloists, the quality of the brass. He became something of a celebrity when he was interviewed by both the BBC and the Festival to mark the Festival’s 70th anniversary.

Throughout the year, at RSNO concerts, he could often be seen in his favourite seat at the Usher Hall, leaning forward slightly and listening intently. With his enormous collection of music, meticulously arranged, his knowledge of every work, composer and performers was formidable. And he loved to share that knowledge and passion with friends, family and colleagues.

Amongst his other passions were good food and fine wine. He was a valued and knowledgeable member of the Scottish Wine Society and the Institute of Wines and Spirits Scotland.

Albeit small of stature Jock had a big heart. He was generous in sharing hospitality, knowledge and time. It is fitting that he has left his estate to family, friends and 22 charities, including the Edinburgh International Festival Society.

Though the eldest in the family, George outlived both his sisters – Margaret and Una –and is survived by his nieces, Jennifer and Dorothy, and his nephew, Alan.

Dorothy U Anderson 
& Tom Bacciarelli