Scotsman Obituaries: Walter Anderson, educational psychologist and piper

George Walter Anderson, educational psychologist and piper. Born: 25 July 1934 in Boddam, Aberdeenshire. Died: 2 March 2022 in Burntisland, aged 87

Walter Anderson followed his soldier father into piping

As a renowned pipe major Walter Anderson followed in the illustrious footsteps of his father, who had piped the Gordon Highlanders into battle during the Second World War.

But while “Cherry” Anderson led troops fighting Hitler’s Afrika Korps in the 1940s, his son played the pipes as he helped victims of another despot decades later – the people of Romania whose lives had been devastated by the iron grip of their leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

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Both dispensed a similar air of optimism: Cherry Anderson composing pipe tunes on the battlefield before leading the Gordons triumphantly through what had been Mussolini’s Italy; his son bringing hope with a convoy of humanitarian aid from Scotland, taking the uplifting spirit of the pipes into the heart of Ceausescu’s brutal Communist regime, playing amid the sickening opulence of the disgraced dictator’s enormous Bucharest palace.

And though they shared a love of pipes and military service, unlike his father, Walter Anderson was not a professional soldier. He spent his working life as a teacher and educational psychologist before embarking on a second career as a piper on the books of an entertainment agency, a role that took him on international engagements, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and royalty.

Born in Boddam, outside Peterhead, and named George Walter Anderson – but never known by his Christian name – he was raised in Aberdeen and attended the city’s Ashley Road Primary school. Already playing the pipes as a boy, his two younger sisters also took up piping. After winning a foundation scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, he joined the army cadets and became a pipe major, chosen as one of a handful of young musicians to play at the annual El Alamein dinner in London, attended by Winston Churchill, a few years after the end of the war.

Leaving school in 1952, he went to Aberdeen University, graduating with an MA and M Ed, and becoming inter-university piping champion in four consecutive years from 1953-56. before taking a teaching post at the city’s Abbotswell Primary School. But he was passionate about helping children and families beyond the confines of the classroom and, convinced he could make a bigger difference, embarked on a career as an educational psychologist. He moved to Glasgow in 1963, taking a diploma in educational psychology a couple of years later, and working in child guidance in Easterhouse for Glasgow City Council.

The late 1960s saw him move as headmaster to Nerston residential school, East Kilbride, for a couple of years before relocating to Fife in 1970 where he lived in Burntisland and became part of the fabric of the community.

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He initially went to Fife as the local authority’s depute principal educational psychologist and was promoted to the principal’s post in 1977. There he made his mark on child guidance, a discipline that encompassed all aspects of the field, helping a vast range of youngsters and their families, from those with visual impairment or Asperger’s Syndrome, to general support for learning in all mainstream and residential schools.

In tandem with his career in education, Mr Anderson was also involved in the territorial army. He was commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders in 1959 and became a captain in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve in 1967.

Retirement in 1989 allowed him more time to spend on his music and he joined the Entertainers Agency, playing at major events all over the country and abroad – even featuring in Hello! magazine after performing at supermodel Kirsty Hume’s wedding to Donovan Leitch. He played in Germany at Mercedes events, in London at private dinners and in Scottish castles for visiting dignitaries, often piping in the haggis.

While piping at Cameron House, Loch Lomond, he mixed with stars of stage, screen and football, including Pavarotti and William Shatner. He also met Prince Charles and Camilla. He was a huge hit with guests, with his impeccable dress, manners and interest in everyone.

Always busy in his community, when aid convoys were heading from Scotland to Romania, after the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, he went out to pipe the aid in. During a tour of Bucharest, he was shown into the palace and, having seen the effects of the brutal regime, was appalled by the grandeur of the dictator’s home. He played there to bring optimism to the shattered community, and featured on the pipes on local radio.

Back home he was pipe major of Burntisland Pipe Band, heavily involved in Burntisland’s Erskine Church, tutored countless young pipers and piped at Burntisland War Memorial on Remembrance Day. During the weekly claps for the NHS at the height of the coronavirus pandemic he played for his neighbours.

Having been a founder member and inaugural president of Burntisland and Kinghorn Rotary Club in 1982, he was named a Paul Harris Fellow and last year received a Paul Harris Sapphire Award. Modest and unassuming, in 2015 he also won the annual Burntisland Community Award for service to his community, something in which he took more pride than all the performances at glittering events.

He is survived by his wife Lilian, whom he met through piping and wed in 1962, their daughters Elaine and Julie, granddaughter Alice and his sisters Kathleen and Sheila.

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