Ex-pupils finds teacher 50 years on to say thanks

Sandy McLean and Helen King are reunited at Liberton Primary. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Sandy McLean and Helen King are reunited at Liberton Primary. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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IT was the school reunion Sandy McLean tried to organise for almost 20 years.

He wanted the opportunity to thank his favourite teacher, a woman who had a profound effect on his life.

Plenty of detective work was required – and now Sandy and Helen King, 83, have struck up a firm friendship.

The pair returned to the classroom together for the first time since the 1960s – with Mrs King impressed by “luxuries” such as blinds and carpets.

Their story begins back in 1959 when a young Sandy entered the then Miss Cochrane’s classroom at what was Inch Primary School. He left her tutelage three years later – and it wasn’t until earlier this year that the pair were reunited.

Mr McLean, 63, searched desperately in a bid to find his old teacher – and now takes her out for tea once a week to share memories of what is now Liberton Primary School.

“She was a great influence on me and a fabulous teacher,” Mr McLean, a retired nurse, said. “I wanted to find her because I have done a lot in my life and it’s really down to her teaching.”

He joined the RAF as a young man and subsequently had the confidence to work abroad in New York, Singapore and Hong Kong.

His hunt began in 1998 when he returned from a spell working abroad, but every path he took to find Miss Cochrane hit a dead end.

It was only when he contacted Liberton Primary that he started to make progress.

Deputy headteacher Marilyn Taylor dug out the school’s old logbook, which explained how she left in November 1968 to become a “senior women’s assistant” at Gracemount Primary School.

However, the search fizzled out when no trace of a Miss Cochrane was found in Gracemount’s records.

All seemed lost until Liberton office worker Diane Knowles recalled the teacher marrying and becoming Mrs King.

Mr McLean said: “I searched census records to see where she had married and then I did something awful and searched the deaths. I thought, ‘if she’s not in the deaths, she’s either still here or she’s emigrated’.”

His hunt turned to the electoral register, where he found a Mrs King in Ravelston and wrote to her.

“I got a phone call a few days later and it was her,” he said. “I recognised her voice immediately but I was just not expecting it. It was a real shock but so amazing.”

Mrs King said she was touched to learn her former pupil – whom she remembered by his once-curly hair – had been so heavily influenced by her lessons, which included leading the school choir, playing the piano and Highland dancing.

She said: “I was most impressed when he said I had a profound influence on his life.

And while Mr McLean remembers his favourite teacher as being strict, he said he was well behaved enough to avoid the belt.

The pair will share tales of schooldays past with current pupils when they meet at Liberton next week.