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Rev Alistair Kelly

Minister, Children's Panel Reporter and artist

Minister, Children's Panel Reporter and artist

Born March 10, 1933; Died November 4, 2013

Alistair Kelly, who has died aged 80, was a Glasgow minister who left the church to embark on a fresh career as one of Scotland's first children's reporters.

Passionate about protecting vulnerable youngsters in our society, he had a potent mix of skills, including a law degree and his experience providing pastoral care as a churchman, which enabled him to give generations of troubled young people a chance to transform their lives.

Over more than 25 years he became an acknowledged expert in the field and on his retiral was the longest-serving Children's Reporter in the country.

Born in Clydebank, the son of the local town clerk Henry Kelly and his wife Agnes, a secondary school teacher, he was evacuated to Perthshire during the worst years of World War II. Fortunately he and his sisters, Aileen and his twin Margery, plus their mother were living in the village of Gartmore when their family home was bombed during the Clydebank Blitz of March 1941.

After the war he completed his education at Glasgow Academy and then did his national service with the RAF before going to the University of Glasgow where he studied law and divinity between 1953 and 1959.

His work in the ministry began as assistant at Dundee Parish Church (St Mary's) which introduced him to his wife Joyce, a contralto in the church choir. In 1961 he became minister of Drumry St Mary's in Drumchapel where he served until 1966 before moving to South Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh.

It was during his time in Drumchapel in the early 1960s that he became inspired by the visionary ideas of the Kilbrandon Report that emanated from the committee, set up by the Scottish Secretary and chaired by the judge Lord Kilbrandon, to look at the treatment of juvenile delinquents and youngsters either beyond parental control or in need of care or protection.

It proposed a lay panel to decide how to best handle such young people, with the primary emphasis on the needs of the child, the role of the family and a preventive and educational approach to the problem. This enlightened attitude to dealing with juvenile justice and safeguarding youngsters in trouble appealed to Rev Kelly who had a natural affinity with children and an instinct to protect the vulnerable ones.

Though the report was published in 1964 the children's hearing system was not established until 1970. That year he concluded four years' service at South Morningside Parish Church and joined the Children's Panel of Renfrew County Council.

He spent four years with Renfrew before being appointed regional reporter to the Children's Panel for Fife Regional Council where he remained for the next 22 years until his retirement in 1996.

Deeply committed to his role in child protection, he always stood up for what he believed to be the best interests of children, even if it challenged prevailing political views. He was proud of Scotland's unique children's panel system and wrote a book on the subject, Introduction to The Scottish Children's Panel, promoting its merits beyond his own country.

Four years after retiring from the Panel and 30 years after he left the church, he returned to the ministry after being approached by the Church of Scotland which needed a minister to provide pastoral care to a deaf congregation. He had become proficient in sign language whilst working in Fife and agreed to return as a locum in 2000. The next 13 years were spent as minister for Edinburgh's Albany Deaf Church, whose congregation stretched along the east coast from Tayside to the Borders.

In retirement he continued his work helping children, chairing the country's oldest children's charity, Dundee's Caroline House Trust, which provides continuing support to young people who have left care.

As a youngster himself he had developed a love of art and had often been known to sit with a sketchpad on his knee. A self-taught watercolourist, after retiring he became a professional artist with a prolific output of vibrant land and cityscapes, busy with people and colour.

He concentrated mainly on Scottish scenes but also painted views of Austria, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Canada and the USA, selling more than 800 pictures and being exhibited in Glasgow, Shetland and Edinburgh.

At 80, he had a website, blog, facebook and twitter accounts promoting his work, a passion he had shared with his 22-year-old granddaughter Jane, an art student.

When she was killed by her boyfriend two years ago her death took a terrible toll on her grandfather who had a special bond with each of his grandchildren.

He went on to create his own artistic tribute to Jane in his unique style, capturing the essence of her life and locations significant to her including Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art where she studied, Uppsala where she last holidayed and the spires of St Petersburg and Moscow that she had dreamed of visiting.

Predeceased by Jane, he is survived by his wife Joyce, children Graeme and Alison and four grandchildren.

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