Friday, November 14, 2008

Fred Edwards, R.I.P.

The Guardian has an obituary for Fred Edwards:

Most people would have been content to boast, as did Fred Edwards, who has died of cancer at the age of 77, that they were director of the "largest social work department in Europe". But even the vast Strathclyde region could not contain his personality, energy, talents and ambitions. These traits, and the importance of the role his position afforded him, made him the voice of Scottish social work - a voice which, uncommonly, was heard south of the border.

Fred believed that the command to love one's neighbour made him "responsible, as far as I can be, for the state of the world". It led him and his second wife, Mary, to establish a water purification and female literacy project in Cambodia in 2002.

When, in 2005, he developed myeloma, he joked that, as a driven man, he was attracted to the idea of eternal rest. Fred never lost his values and vision in the daily grind of bureaucracy or the wielding of power.

In later years, he referred to his deep Christian faith as "public orthodoxy, private heresy". He said that it had grown more minimalist but more profound. He was strongly attached to the ecumenical Iona community. He could be serious but was never pompous. When he said: "I had an aspiration to righteousness, but my appetites kept getting in the way," he spoke the truth, but did so with his characteristic bellowing laugh.

On retirement in 1993 Fred proudly announced that he would be following "a portfolio career". This did not involve the lucrative consultancies and appointments to quangos that so many of his fellows collect. He became a full-time voluntary worker, a new career that encompassed the environment, religion and social justice. He gained a qualification in ecology and a national newspaper recently named him one of the UK's most influential environmentalists.

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