Obituaries: Stuart Mitchell, Classicist, musician and book lover ​​​​​​​

Stuart John Mitchell, classicist, musician, book lover and one-time principal of Hamilton College. Born: 1 January 1946 in Hereford. Died: 31 January 2022, aged 76.

Stuart Mitchell was a brilliant pianist

In January, an ordinary – yet an extraordinary – citizen of Scotland, aged 76, quietly and peacefully slipped life’s moorings, the victim of cancer. Our society is thereby bereft of the ongoing richness Stuart Mitchell added to the lives of those best acquainted with him.

A frequent contributor to the Letters pages of newspapers, a survey of what he put there in the public domain is testimony to the range of learning which he valued from his early years: Greek particles, standards in education, the value of reading the Classics in their original languages and, perhaps the most frequent focus of all, his conviction about the truth of Christianity, demonstrated by his eagerness to defend it from what he perceived as misunderstanding and unjust interpretation.

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A Classics scholar – and in professional life a Classics teacher – Stuart’s early and precocious love of learning, and ancient languages in particular, was spectacularly demonstrated in the most unlikely of settings: Kirkintilloch Swimming Pool. While his early teenage peers perfected their breaststroke in the pool, Stuart opted to remain in the spectators’ gallery, immersed in a Greek grammar book. Were it a 21st-century image, it would likely go viral. Far from being an isolated incident, much later in life, at the time he provided music at Paisley Crematorium, Stuart brushed up on his Hebrew grammar between services!

Stuart J Mitchell was born on New Year’s Day, 1946. Though he retained a lifelong affection for Hereford, the place of his birth, as a youngster he moved with his family to Scotland. He attended The High School of Glasgow where his most cherished subjects were Latin, Greek and Music. Subsequently, he progressed to Glasgow University to study Classics with subsidiary Music and Hebrew.

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Stuart’s teaching career began as a probationer at The High School of Glasgow, where he proved that, with his encouragement and demand for high standards, pupils from lower sets could outperform their more academic peers. Extra classes at lunchtime and after school were his way of enabling his pupils to take crash Higher Greek – no mean achievement.

In 1973 he became principal teacher of Classics at Airdrie Academy, where he was highly regarded as a gifted and inspiring teacher, attracting considerable numbers of pupils to study Latin and Greek and in whom he instilled a keen interest in the language, literature and wisdom of ancient cultures. School trips to Athens and Rome are fondly remembered by his former pupils and colleagues from Airdrie Academy.

In 1983 Stuart was invited to take the position of Assistant Principal to the Founder of Hamilton College and, in 1987, he became the Principal. The school’s website records that “Mr Mitchell can justly be described as a man of formidable intellect, a most able administrator and an extraordinary pianist.”

To describe Stuart Mitchell as an extraordinary pianist might be deemed an understatement. His pianistic skills were nothing short of spectacular and he was a rare form of musician who was both an expert improviser and a meticulous exponent of classical music in its last detail. He was an avid collector of both popular and rare performances of symphonies and concertos. In anticipation of his funeral, Stuart selected two movements from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 to be shared with the mourners.

Among his other composer favourites was Dmitri Shostakovich, whose works he encountered in his teenage years.

Stuart was characterised by his passion for reading texts that would have been excessively challenging to lesser intellects. During lockdown, he passed the time reading Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid in the original languages. And he read Horace. Stuart loved the Odes of that ancient Roman poet and was very like him – never one to show off or seek the fashionable crowd.

His broad, intellectual tastes included the poetry of A E Housman, contemporary works of fiction and books about the cosmos. Stuart was passionately interested in theological works but also in the dilemmas that theology presents – such as the problem of suffering.

He summed up many such dilemmas in a reassuring article entitled “Beyond the Final Curtain”. Stuart’s life was underpinned in all things by his Christian faith. He regularly preached at his home church, West Glasgow New Church, and was on the Council of Advisers for the organisation Grasping the Nettle, which takes seriously the need to look carefully and methodically at the evidence for the truth of Christianity.

Stuart’s beloved wife Elaine predeceased him in 2005 and he leaves two daughters, Karen and Pauline, and five grandchildren in whose progress he took great delight. He also leaves his dear close friend Eleanor, who has been his joy, soulmate and helper for many years.


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