OBITUARY: James Douglas Smith

James Douglas Smith (Jim), leading educational psychologist and founding member of the Borders Party, died last month.

Always interested in other people, and with his charismatic style, Jim’s lifelong pursuit was making things – all sorts of things – better.

As a boy growing up in Lochmaben, he alarmed his parents by not doing homework until after bedtime. His mother raised this with the Minister, who replied that he did the same thing. So Jim’s habit of staying up through the night, constantly researching, never left him.

At Dumfries Academy he met Ann. Their first night out was a dance at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, where they were later married.

After studying psychology at Strathclyde University, and becoming Master of Education from Glasgow University, he relished being sent to one of the most difficult schools in Scotland. Rising to the challenge, Jim was held in great affection by many: more than 20 years later, two former pupils spotted him shopping in Glasgow, and broke into a run exclaiming “It’s Mr Smith!”

Jim founded SALGEP, the Scottish Association for Local and Government Educational Psychologists, whose forward-thinking committee transformed the development of educational psychology in Scotland.

After a highly successful spell in Shetland, Jim took up post as Principal Educational Psychologist with Borders Regional Council.

To him this work was not just about helping people with difficulties to cope, but about bringing out the best in them.

Continuing to practise after retirement, he delighted in telling of the special gifts he discovered in people who had been written off at school.

In 2001 he helped found Harmony, a remarkable charity which now regularly brings live music to thousands of frail and lonely older people across the Borders, and which last year won the Queen’s Golden Jubilee award for Voluntary Service.

As secretary of Save Scott’s Countryside, he jointly prepared the defence of Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford estate against a “new settlement”. Scott’s land was saved outright, and seven out of nine further sites contested at a public inquiry were also spared development.

Always keen that the Borders should benefit from change and not be damaged by it, Jim went on to be a founding member of the Borders Party in 2006. He was party secretary, and candidate for the Jedburgh Ward in the 2007 council elections. According to another founding member Jim was “the ultimate secretary, keeping us all up to the mark with immaculate paperwork at every stage and sharply written minutes.”

Jim always had his family at the centre of his life, taking great pride in his wife Ann, who survives him, their two children, Douglas and Alison, and four grandchildren.

He was very attached to Smithfield, his family’s property in Prestwick since the early 1300s. While on the run, Robert the Bruce was saved by loyal men who hid him in a cart. As a direct descendent of one of these men, the owner of the cart, Jim bore the Heritable Freedom of Prestwick, and is succeeded by his son Douglas.

In January, Jim dictated a letter to the Scotsman about energy. When it wasn’t printed it was sent to the Independent, the Times and the Herald.

A message came back from the Independent, saying, “We believe your letter was intended for the London Independent, but it raises issues most relevant to us here, and we would be very pleased to print it.”

This turned out to be The Independent newspaper in New Mexico. Jim was delighted that despite being extremely ill he was keeping people on their toes half way across the world.

Jim’s maxim was honesty, integrity and service, always doing what he could for others, with an infectious, sometimes mischievous, sense of fun.

NW