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Derek Parker

Writer and athletics coach

Writer and athletics coach

Born: 20 March, 1943; Died: 27 May, 2014

DEREK Parker, who has died aged 71 following a short illness, was born in Johnstone and lived in Elderslie, but, as a former pupil of Camphill High School, he deserves to be recognised as an honorary Paisley Buddie and definitely a Paisley Worthie.

Paisley Worthies were highly individual people, who marched to a different drum, and, in many ways this summed up Mr Parker, who might also be described as a Renaissance Man, so wide-ranging and varied were his interests.

He was born the eldest son of Gilbert, a gamekeeper and Isabella, the daughter of a huntsman with the Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire Hunt. From his parents, he inherited a love of the country and an appreciation of the countryside and country life.

He was a life-long member of the R&L, and supporter of fox-hunting, although he never rode to hounds, unlike his paternal grandfather, who had been a huntsman with the famous Quorn.

From Elderslie Wallace Primary, he went on to Camphill. Paisley lore has it that the Old Grammarians, old boys of Paisley Grammar School think they run Paisley, but, in reality the town is run by the Camphill Mafia.

At Camphill, he developed a lifelong love for and appreciation of language and languages; he was earmarked for university, but, at 17, showed his independent streak by leaving to join the British Linen Bank.

Banking was not for him; neither, he discovered when he joined the Ministry of Pensions, was the civil service. So when he was 20, he took a year out of work to pass his Highers and go to Glasgow University, where he obtained his MA.

He then began to support himself by writing, while he studied divinity by distance learning, obtaining an Honours BD degree from the University of London, in the process, adding Greek and Hebrew to the Latin and French he learned at Camphill. Although he was a serious student of religion and religions, he was never called to a parish.

While at Camphill, he had discovered the other main plank of his life - athletics. He was never better than a good standard club runner, but, turning to coaching, he found his niche.

In his mid-thirties, he was already one of the youngest senior coaches in Scotland, first with Paisley Harriers, then, from the club's formation, with Kilbarchan Harriers AAC.

His devotion to Kilbarchan and to his young charges was absolute. He was a most-encouraging coach, one who always put his athletes first. He never married - his athletes were his children.

And what talented children too. He coached Hayley Haining, the 41-year-old mother who ran so well for Scotland in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games women's marathon.

He also coached the young Derek Hawkins, the first Briton home in the men's marathon in Glasgow, while his handling of the talented but hugely-unlucky Bobby Quinn - the former World Uphill Mountain Running Champion and the first British athlete to represent his country on the track, in cross-country, on the road and in mountain running, was the stuff of legend.

He helped mould other international runners, such as GB international middle-distance runner Claire Gibson and Gerry Fairley, the welder at John Brown's Shipyard who, under Mr Parker's coaching, became a World Masters Champion and world record holder, as well as a host of age-group Scottish internationalists, who were as good as any British youngsters.

He wrote copiously on athletics and, in particular, on coaching, for general athletics magazines and specialist coaching publications. He was a coaching guru, who preferred to work quietly with his athletes rather than push himself forward.

His expertise was rewarded by twice winning the accolade of Scottish Performance Coach Of The Year, in 2005 and 2009.

He also wrote widely on local history, whilst his articles on country issues were published by Country Life, Horse & Hound and National Geographic. He published some nine books.

He had a spell as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Country Park, before perhaps finding his niche with the Paisley Daily Express, where the then editor Norman Macdonald assembled a team that included in Mr Parker and a couple of other mavericks, a somewhat eccentric editorial team.

His column Parker's Way was a weekly must-read. He also used his knowledge of Renfrewshire history to write entertainingly on the famous Paisley Worthies, such as Ta Ta Bella.

He went everywhere locally on foot or by bicycle, a familiar figure out in all weathers.

He was able to compartmentalise his interests, and was trenchant in his views. He did not suffer fools, and stood up strongly for what he believed in, be it an unpopular opinion on a religious issue, or opposing the ban on fox-hunting.

Retirement from frontline journalism did not slow him down. He was active in Elderslie Community Council, but his cavalier attitude to his own health and well-being eventually told. He was, for a time, in denial about his health; he had virtually to be marched along to the doctor when his friends and family became concerned.

Over the final 18 months of his life, he was in and out of the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where he died. However, his "kids", his athletes, the many friends he had made, visited him and his popularity was evident with the overflowing congregation at his cremation in Paisley.

It was a virtual who's who of Scottish athletics; the Lord Lieutenant was there, as was the MFH of the Hunt. Former Kilbarchan athletes who had left the district returned, as did the "kids" and his fellow coaches.

He is survived by his sister Isabel and brother-in-law Hector. A young brother, Norman, was killed in a car crash at 26.

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