The late James Forbes
3rd June 2016
The following appreciation of the life of the late James Forbes, who was a long serving board member of the SLC Council, was written by Frances Robson.
When I met James twenty years ago, he was a highly respected school rep for the SSTA, a teachers’ union. We maintained contact until his death from a second stroke on Sunday 17th April this year.
James was a committed trade unionist. He did not just become angry in the face of injustice and corruption – he positively raged against it! In his pursuit for justice and transparency his approach was always characterised by thorough research and meticulous attention to detail. He was perhaps too tenacious for his opponents. He was a man of integrity: if he said he would do something, he doggedly followed it through to the end.
Who could forget his appearance before the GTC Fitness to Teach Panel when he turned up in a Hallowe’en outfit – complete with a witch’s hat? Since the accusation was based on a perceived insult outside both school and classroom, he wanted to demonstrate in a flamboyant way that the case against him was nothing more than a witch hunt.
James was straightforward and honest, totally unafraid to speak his mind. Nobody was in any doubt where they stood with him.
He was passionate about languages and cultures, especially those of Eastern Europe. This may have been fostered by his time at St Andrews University when he spent a year abroad in East Berlin, long before the Wall came down. He was a dedicated teacher. One Lasswade High senior pupil at the funeral on Thursday 26th May told me (quite spontaneously!) that his best memories of school were in S2 and 3 when Mr Forbes taught him French because his teacher was so passionate about the language. James was very happy working in Lasswade High, his last school. He often told me that it was the happiest place he had ever worked in, and that he thought highly of the pupils.
His love of languages included those nearer home: Scots and Gaelic. He was involved with the Scots Language Centre, and regularly attended the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Scots Language. This later extended to an interest in Gaelic, with his own hard work and commitment leading to a high standard of fluency. As part of his coursework he had to write a paper on his genealogy – in Gaelic! Being James, he wanted to include others, so he regularly took groups of Lasswade pupils on school trips to Skye where they could learn something of the Gaelic language and culture.
Long before Holyrood was even thought of, James supported and campaigned for the SNP. But in conversation he always maintained respect for the beliefs of others.
I have kept all the holiday postcards he sent. Most are from far flung places such as Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia – countries he visited just before trouble broke out – surely a coincidence!
Despite the high profile in areas of his professional life, James was a very private person. He will be missed by many who knew him in both spheres of his life. We need more people like him who are prepared to stand up for what they believe, despite the personal cost.