Thomas Fairley

Born: January 4, 1928;

Died October 9, 2023

In a 40-year long career in secondary education, Thomas Fairley, who has died aged 95, steered a steady course through a number of changes to school organisation and to the curriculum as well as providing a solid family life for his wife and children.

Born in West Calder, he was the third of four brothers – all of whom were connected to the mines and shared one bedroom in a two-bedroomed flat. His own schooling was at West Calder Primary and West Calder High School. On leaving school in 1946, after a brief spell picking potatoes, he began his national service in the RAF as an aircraft fitter. In his discharge papers he was described as contentious and a keen sportsmen, qualities and interests which held him in good stead throughout his working life.

After leaving the RAF he went into a teacher training scheme aimed at recruiting returning servicemen and boosting teacher numbers in the face of rising birth rates and qualified as a teacher of maths and history. He initially took up a post as a maths teacher in Fauldhouse Junior Secondary, living at home in West Calder. But glad of the opportunity to work in the Scottish Borders with its lovely countryside and strong rugby culture, he moved in 1954 to teach at Earlston Junior Secondary and the next year he married his first wife Margaret.

In November 1955 he secured a full-time permanent post at George Heriot’s, the independent school in Edinburgh, teaching maths as well as coaching in rugby and refereeing matches. Self-effacing, he joked that he just learned the rules as he went along but in fact he was very effective in fostering the playing skills of his pupils.

He and Margaret then moved to Edinburgh in 1967 as Tom took up a maths teaching post at George Watson’s College when it was an all-boys. He was soon regarded as an indispensable member of the maths department and was liked and respected by pupils. In 1974 when the boys’ and ladies’ colleges were amalgamated onto the Colinton Road campus, Tom was promoted to year head.

He was one of the leaders of a programme for a class called 3N4. Considered to be less able the class was, in maths, kept small so they got more individual attention. Meanwhile their confidence and capabilities were fostered through activities such as walks in the Pentlands, the development of practical skills such as woodwork and by community engagement with groups such as Craigmillar Boys Club. Tom always believed it was the whole person that counted and not just their academic record.

In 1973 he saw in the raising of the school age from 15 to 16 when schools had to engage with an extra cohort of teenage pupils who needed meaningful activities in the classroom.

Tom always kept up with changes in education but shared his feelings with his family that he at times, like many other teachers, did not always find the process easy. Particularly challenging were his duties as a year head which involved managing the expectations of fee-paying parents as well as of pupils.

But as if Tom could not get enough of teaching he also taught evening classes in accountancy at Edinburgh’s Telford College and continued with his extracurricular rugby activities.

Tom was a long-standing member of the EIS (the Educational Institute of Scotland) and became the union’s school-based representative at George Watson’s College. Its staff were predominantly against strike action as was its senior management, but Tom steadfastly stuck to EIS instructions and he and a small band of Watson EIS members took part in a one-day national strike on the 5th December 1985.

After his retirement from Watson’s in 1992 he and the Fairley family went on trips abroad including a four-week caravanning trip round Europe which was full of adventures particularly as Martin’s Hillman Minx pulled the caravan through mountain passes in Switzerland. Later, there was a trip to Australia as Tom and Marguerite (his second wife) visited daughter Alison.

But much earlier on in the late sixties and closer to home Tom and daughter Valerie took a day trip to Dumfriesshire to search for and find, much to Tom’s delight, the now disused site of RAF Dumfries where he underwent his national service.

Margaret had sadly died young in 1974 of a viral illness which affected her heart valves and Tom remarried two years later to Marguerite. Already father to Martin and Valerie he was then able to add Alison to the Fairley family. Martin cared for Marguerite in her later years. She died in February 2021. Tom lived independently at home until his final days when he died in hospital.

Tom is survived by son Martin, daughter Valerie and step daughter of Alison.