Obituary: David Purves, 90

A respected environmental biochemist and leading advocate of the Scots language has died, aged 90.

David Purves wrote three plays in Scots. Picture: comp
David Purves wrote three plays in Scots. Picture: comp

David Purves was born in Selkirk on April 9, 1924, and grew up in the Borders, where he attended Galashiels Academy.

After service in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, he obtained an honours degree and PhD in biochemistry at Edinburgh University. Following research work on nuclear biochemistry and grass conservation, he joined the staff of the East of Scotland College of Agriculture in 1956, where he was responsible for the analysis of plants and soils for trace elements, in relation to the issue of plant and animal nutrition.

In 1980, he was commissioned by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations to recommend standards governing the disposal of metal-contaminated sewage sludge to land and he maintained an interest in global environmental problems after his retirement as supervisor of the Central Analytical Department in the Edinburgh School of Agriculture in 1987.

Throughout his adult life, Mr Purves was a committed supporter of Scottish independence and he stood in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles for the SNP in the February 1974 general election.

He was later elected to the SNP national council and became convener of the policy committee which formulated SNP environment policy in the 1980s.

In his later years, he also became committed to the cause of the Scots language, taking a special interest in Scots spelling.

He contributed a paper on this subject to the Scottish Literary Journal in 1979. In 1985, he presided over a meeting of contemporary writers in Scots at the School of Scottish Studies, which agreed a set of guidelines for reforming the spelling of Scots.

His book, A Scots Grammar, which was published by the Saltire Society in 1997, was the first Scots grammar guide to appear in print since 1921. A revised and extended edition was published in 2002.

He had many poems in Scots published individually in magazines and journals, including 200 renderings in Scots of ancient Chinese poems. Two collections of his own poems in Scots have been published: Thrawart Threipins in 1976, and Hert’s Bluid, Chapman, 1995.

Three plays in Scots, The Puddok an the Princess, The Knicht o the Riddils and Whuppitie Stourie, have been professionally produced.

Purves was elected as Preses of the Scots Language Society in 1983 – holding the position until 1986 – and served as editor of Lallans, the only journal published entirely in Scots, from 1987 to 1995.

He died in Edinburgh on Saturday.

He is survived by his wife, Rosemary, and three sons, Graeme, Jamie and Neil.