Obituary: Sir Fred O’Brien, 95

Sir Fred O'Brien achieved some remarkable feats in his 95 years
Sir Fred O'Brien achieved some remarkable feats in his 95 years
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SIR Fred O’Brien, former sheriff principal of Lothian and Borders, has died, aged 95.

Frederick William Fitzgerald O’Brien was born in Edinburgh in 1917, the only son of Dr Charles O’Brien, a doctor of music. He was educated at the Royal High School and went to Edinburgh University, where he studied for his MA and LLB.

He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War and joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit.

After training as a medical orderly in Liverpool, he served in London during the Blitz. He was with a blood transfusion unit in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Egypt (the 15th Scottish General Hospital) and with the Allied advance through Sicily, where he witnessed an eruption of Vesuvius.

He also saw service at one of the toughest engagements in the war – the climactic battle for Monte Cassino in Italy in May 1944.

After being demobbed, he spent two years working with Edinburgh solicitors Davidson & Syme. He was called to the Bar in 1947 and became a QC in 1960.

He served as commissioner for the Mental Welfare Commission, 1962-65, and senior advocate depute at the Crown Office, 1964-65, before being appointed sheriff principal for Caithness, Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland, where he stayed until 1975.

He was sheriff principal of South Strathclyde, 1975-78, and then became sheriff principal of Lothian and Borders. One of his major achievements was to campaign for the building
of the new courts in Chambers Street.

He was chairman of the Sheriff Court Rules Council 1975-81, but also served on a wide range of bodies outside the legal sphere, including the Scottish Medical Practices Committee, 1973-76, the Scottish Records Advisory Council, 1974-83; and as convener of Edinburgh University’s General Council Business Committee, 1980-84.

He was chairman of the Sir Walter Scott Society, 1989-92, president of the Royal High School former pupils club in 1975 and honorary president, 1982-91. He also visited by ship all the manned lighthouses in Scotland as a commissioner of Northern Lighthouse Board, 1965-89, serving as chairman in 1983-84 and 1986-87.

After his retirement in 1989, Sir Fred often joined a group of fellow senior members at Bruntsfield Golf Course, known as the Amblers, on a Wednesday morning for as many holes as the weather permitted. He was made an honorary member of the club, having been a member for 62 years, playing regularly in annual matches between the Bar and the Bench. He continued to play golf until he was 90 and retook – and passed – his advanced driving test in his mid-nineties.

He was knighted in 1984. His wife, whom he married in 1950, died last year. They are survived by two sons and a daughter.