Obituary: James Durkin, former teacher and councillor, 79

James Durkin spent his career battling against social injustice
James Durkin spent his career battling against social injustice
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James Durkin, a former geography teacher and Labour councillor who championed social justice and is credited with changing the scene of Capital politics, has died aged 79.

Mr Durkin was born on December 26, 1932, in Upper Grove Place, and was the youngest of four children. As a child he suffered from health problems including asthma, and as a result was the subject of bullying at school. However, he prevailed and went on to become an influential figure in local government.

Despite his studies declining as a result of the bullying he received, James attended night school and gained a BSc at Edinburgh University, and later a BA, in the hope of becoming a teacher.

After working as an engraver he finally achieved his goal and became a key figure in the teaching set up at St Anthony’s High School in Leith, and also the replacement Holy Rood High.

A principal teacher of guidance, as well as teaching his favourite subject of geography, he also took on the responsibility for the wider wellbeing of his students.

His main passion in geography was cathedrals, and family holidays with his wife Margaret and daughter Katy would often consist of viewing cathedrals of historic interest instead of visiting beaches.

As a teenager Mr Durkin had realised that the distribution of wealth in the city was vastly unfair as many people had very little money or none at all, and many had access to a much more significant amount. This led to his important role in fighting social injustice in the Capital. He was labelled by the media as one of the “angry young men” during his early days of political activism for the Labour Party.

Mr Durkin, along with the other “angry young men” including Owen Hand and Jimmy Kerr, was credited with pioneering Labour’s victory in the city’s district council elections in 1984. This had a dramatic effect on the politics of Edinburgh.

Mr Durkin had come a long way in 24 years after he became the president of Central Edinburgh’s young socialists in 1960 and also elected as a councillor for the city ward of Pilton.

It was also through political campaigning that he met his wife of 45 years, Margaret. During Labour Party campaigning in Portobello for Phyllis Herriot they met and they married in 1967. Their daughter Katy was born one year later.

Mr Durkin was held in high regard by many and his efforts in establishing the Labour Club in Musselburgh helped provide the party with much needed funds.

He died following a long illness in Victoria Manor nursing home in Leith where he received “the best of care”, according to his daughter.

He is survived by his wife Margaret, daughter Katy and grandson Patrick.