Born October 14, 1940; Died September 30, 2007
Ian was born in Rankin Memorial Hospital Greenock, on 14th October 1940 to Hugh and Marion Barr. The family later moved to Elderslie, where they would remain, except for a temporary move to Helensburgh during the war. Ian was a war baby; his father was away and his mother Marion was deaf, and sometimes didn’t hear the air-raid warnings so he was often left out in his pram (so Ian claimed). As he often mentioned, he didn’t see a banana till he was 7!
Ian claimed his love of the outdoors and travelling came from his mother, who loved the idea of travelling herself, and who said she wanted to see every country in the world. She also used to wrap Ian’s sandwiches up in road maps. This trend clearly ran in the family: his Aunt Annie was travelling the world by steamer to Japan as early as 1912.
He was a pupil of the John Neilson Institution in Paisley. He joined the Cubs in 1948, and the Scouts in 1951.
He studied Geography at the University of Glasgow, and started teaching at Port Glasgow High School in August 1964. He continued to teach there until his retirement in October 1999 – 35 years service in the one school, firstly as a teacher, and latterly as the Principal Teacher of Geography. He wasn’t interested in being promoted further, as he wanted to deal with the pupils, not the paperwork, and found the bin was an excellent way to deal with the latest education idea/reform.
He married Barbara – another PGHS teacher at the time – in July 1974, having talked her out of emigrating to New Zealand. Their son Gordon was born in January 1978.
First and foremost, in everything he did in his life, Ian was an Educator. Education for him was not something that just took place in the classroom, rather it was an appreciation of the environment and nature, appreciating your fellow human beings and how to get on with them.
This showed itself through the many overseas school expeditions he organised, which were unique in the education world – both public and private - and nowadays would probably be considered far too dangerous to be allowed. Port Glasgow High School was at the forefront of this kind of education.
There were 2 types of trips – regular ski trips throughout the winter, and often abroad at Easter, as well as what came to be known as Geog-Ex trips (the Geographical and Exploration Society).
The trip abroad itself was not all there was to it; there were months of planning and training and building up of skills and teambuilding, all the way through the year, before they actually went abroad.
In 1967, the first big trip – lasting 30 days and covering 9,000 miles - was planned to tour the middle east by landrover, and it had been arranged that the group would meet King Hussein in Jordan. As it turned out, the 6-day war broke out, and they had to re-plan several times, eventually ending up travelling through Turkey and Persia instead. While in Turkey, there was a massive earthquake that killed over 1,000 people. They were luckily not in the vicinity, but the boys and teachers were reported as missing in the British press for four days. They remained oblivious of people’s concern until reaching Thesalonika and picking up a British newspaper to read of ’14 schoolboys missing after Turkish Earthquake’ and realising it was referring to them. They sent a reassuring telegram home, which simply read ‘Untouched by Earthquake.’!
On the same trip, camped near the foot of Mount Ararat, another teacher, Bill Wright, was woken by Ian in the dead of night to be told not to move suddenly as there was a rifle pointing at his head. Ian said he’d already tried speaking to the soldier in French and English, and could Bill please try a bit of German! After
managing to explain who they were, sharing a coffee, and playing ‘A Scottish Soldier’ to them on the mouth organ, the soldiers drove off.
Despite the adventurous and groundbreaking nature of the trips, Ian had built up strong relationships with the parents, who trusted him to look after their boys, many of whom had never even been out of the country before.
Sadly now, teachers – and pupils - don’t have that sort of opportunity because of the culture of mollycoddling. Boys lose the chance to have life-enhancing, horizon broadening character forming (and scary) experiences, plus the relationships they could build with each other and the changed relationship they’d then have with the teachers back in the school.
After this initial trip, around 40 others followed to countries as varied as arctic Norway, Crete, Iceland, Greece, the Accursed Mountains in the Pyrenees, Slovenia, Sardinia, the Hardanger Ice Cap, the Sierra de Grados, and many more, across mountain passes, through gorges, across lava fields and glaciers. They usually involved groups of around a dozen boys (no girls) from third year upwards.
The Geog-Ex expeditions were held around every one or two years, and when they came back from abroad that wasn’t the end of it. Ian spent hours writing up accounts of the trip, which were always serialised in the Greenock Telegraph, along with a selection of photographs, usually including at least one “mummy- frightener” as he liked to call them. These features were looked forward to and enjoyed by the entire Port Glasgow – Greenock community. They were also a fantastic advert for doing Geography at PGHS! There was also a slideshow to which the entire school came along. The slides from these trips were then used when he gave illustrated talks about his expeditions to just about every guild, private club, photographic society etc in the central belt, and these were so popular that he was invited back again and again. Earlier this year the Greenock Philosophical made a presentation to mark his 30th visit to their group. His loyalty over many years to the people and organisations he was involved with was always obvious.
Often there was a family history of going on a Geog-Ex, with big brothers followed by their wee brothers a few years later. There are now Geog-Ex boys going back almost 40 years, some of whom have kept contact, both between themselves and with Ian. Many have expressed their appreciation for the impact that Ian, and the preparation for, and carrying out of, these trips made to their lives.
There was one family where the elder brother had been on a Geog-Ex, the younger brother had been taught by Ian, and so had their mother, who had protested strongly when she was at school that girls weren’t allowed to go on the trips!
Towards the end of his school career, Ian formed the Ibex Mountaineering Group, for former pupils who wanted to continue climbing and travelling with him. The balance of responsibility has evened out over the years as they began to keep more of a watchful eye on him than vice versa.
Apart from his extra-curricular activities at the school, Ian was clearly a colourful character to work with. In everything he did he was passionate, and had very strong and clear ideas – which could be both a blessing and torment for those who worked with him. Although he did see out several headmasters, and gave some of them quite a hard time at points, they respected the fact that he said exactly what he thought very honestly. When he retired, he left the then headmaster a photo of himself to keep on his desk to keep an eye on him.
Ian became an Assistant Scout Leader at the 7th Paisley (JNI) Scout Group in 1959, then Scout Leader in 1961, and later the Group Scout Leader. He retired from weekly active involvement in the Troop at the same time as he retired from the school, but continued to have a regular hands on input with the entire Group.
He had planned to retire formally as Group Scout Leader in 2008, when he would have completed 60 years of service to the Scouts, but even then planned to keep the connection going by becoming the Group Archivist. As well as his commitment to this one particular troop, he was also very involved on a District and national level as Assistant District Commissioner, an Assistant Leader Trainer - involved in training Scouters – passing on his skills, as well as a member of many committees.
As Assistant Area Commissioner – International he had the skills and talents to make sure that Groups that travelled abroad did so safely. He was also the Area Advisor for Mountain Activities – he decided if Scouts could go out on the hills or not.
From early boyhood he was already travelling and exploring in Scotland. He saw Scouting not as something just to do on a Friday night, but much more: the Scouting was fun, but also there were responsibilities to yourself, other people, and the environment. For example, during the mid-1960s outbreak of Foot & Mouth, Ian organised the Scouts to man checkpoints on the border between Scotland and England to make sure traffic was being properly disinfected.
His services to Scouting were recognised by of number of awards – including a Long Service award in 1977 – thirty years ago! Numerous other awards followed, in particular in 1988 when he received Scouting’s highest possible formal award – the Silver Wolf.
Alongside the expected annual Scout camps, he also organised expeditions abroad for the Scouts, which were just as eventful as those for the school. Just a year after the school trip with the earthquake, he and the Scouts in were in Czechoslovakia, and were just leaving the country at the same time that Russia invaded. The headline in the Paisley Daily Express was:
It has been commented that the Russians were sensible enough to wait until Barr had left before starting any trouble! Clearly concerned to make sure people knew they were unharmed, he sent another reassuring telegram, which read: “Safe. Tell S.H.Q.”
Or, as the Paisley Daily Express reported it: “Sale. Tell S.H.Q.” !
His Scouting expeditions were also written up and serialised for the PDX, with a similar reception in the Paisley area, and included trips to Corsica, Andorra, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hannibal’s route over the Alps, the Dolomites and many more.
One of the things Ian had been working on in his retirement was a full detailed history of the 7th Paisley JNI Scout Group. He was the ideal person to write the history, since he’d made or seen most of it himself. His involvement included 2 different scout halls – both called the Bield – an old Scots word for shelter – and he took great pride in their current premises, previously Martyr’s Parish Church in Paisley, which made him one of the few Scout leaders to have his own church. His involvement with the Scout movement reflects his convictions - Scouting is a Family.
Ian didn’t just travel with the school and the Scouts though - he travelled himself to Greenland, to the basecamp of Everest, and the summit of Kilimanjaro, and he travelled with his family as well.
The Evening Times ran a story on Ian in 1974, where they commented: “anyone who thought marriage would stop his travelling has been sadly mistaken!"
The honeymoon was planned to be in Cyprus, but in 1974 the Turks decided to go as well, so there was a last minute change to Yugoslavia. People started to ask Ian where he was going to be travelling to that year to make sure their holiday plans did not involve that part of the world as he had acquired the reputation of being in trouble spots. Later the same year Barbara and Ian also visited Moscow and Samarkand, Aman, Akkaba, and Petra in Jordan.
When he retired, Ian did not stop, but he travelled for his own pleasure to all the adventurous places he wanted to visit; including – but not limited to – Mali, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Mauritania, the Sudan, the high Atlas mountains, Namibia, Equador. He continued to photograph, document and give talks on these trips.
Ian Barr was a unique person, and a huge influence on so many different people: quite apart from friends and family, there are the hundreds of pupils he taught at Port Glasgow High School, the dozens that experienced the Geog-Ex trips, the hundreds of Scouts that learnt from him in so many years at the 7th Paisley (J.N.I.) Scouts, and the many others who travelled with him. Thousands of people must have heard his talks over the years: dozens of groups probably heard them all. He touched the lives of so many people in a very significant way.