Real lives: Gifted professor’s virtues will live on

Peter McEwen was a graduate of Edinburgh University. Picture: comp
Peter McEwen was a graduate of Edinburgh University. Picture: comp
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A MAJOR international authority on psychology, who began his academic career in the Capital, has died at the age of 95.

Tributes have been paid by the friends and family of Professor Peter McEwen, a graduate of Edinburgh University and former chair of psychology at Stirling University.

Prof McEwen was born on August 30, 1920, in Fortingall Parish, Perthshire, and educated initially at the local village school in Fearnan, Loch Tayside. He then enrolled at Breadalbane Academy, Aberfeldy.

Academically gifted, he also showed considerable early promise as an athlete and sporting all-rounder.

However, at the age of 17, his life was tragically interrupted by a sequence of illnesses that confined him to bed for the best part of two years, with tuberculosis irreparably destroying one of his hip joints.

His infirmity did not prevent the award of an open scholarship – one of only three – to Edinburgh University, where he spent his first two years studying for medicine, before going on to gain a first-class Honours degree in psychology.

Although he was unfit for military service, given the onset of war, Prof McEwen spent one summer working for the Ministry of Agriculture.

With many students and others volunteering for work on the land, it became clear that their efforts were being less effective than hoped for by the farming community.

This prompted Prof McEwen to suggest the setting up of organised work camps where the volunteers could live and work together.

When the resultant scheme proved to be a notable success, Peter went on to manage one such camp, in Berwickshire.

Having met as students, he married Janet Vass in 1946 and they travelled to South Africa, where he took up a junior lectureship in Pietermaritzburg. Returning to Edinburgh in 1948, he spent time working with Dr Richard Scott, sharing an interest in the formal training of general practitioners in the newly formed NHS.

It was thanks in no small measure to the work of Prof McEwen and other early appointees that, when the University of Stirling opened its doors in September 1967, there was a viable infrastructure to welcome the first undergraduate and postgraduate students in psychology.

Until his retirement in 1984, Prof McEwen was heavily involved not only with running his own department, but also in the broader development and management of the university.

Family and friends said that, though they were saddened by his passing, the professor’s delight in knowledge and his many virtues would live on, expressed in the lives of those who were close to him.

He is survived by his wife, Jenny, their four children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Dr John M Stewart