Paths for All leader Ian Findlay – the inspirational walking champion who made it a Scottish transport priority
It is a bitter irony that at a time when Covid lockdowns have brought walking to the fore and it has never enjoyed such importance politically, Scotland has lost one of its greatest champions.
Ian Findlay, the long-serving chief officer of Paths for All, which promotes walking, died suddenly while cycling last Friday. He would have been 60 next week.
His unexpected passing has left those working in the “active travel” sector reeling. But they should take comfort from the extraordinary contribution Ian made to elevating the cause of our most basic form of transport by challenging the popular conception that it should be taken for granted, the attitude that “everybody walks, it’s not important, you don’t need to think about it”.
Over his 17 years at Paths for All, Ian played a key role in transforming the status of walking – and wheeling – so they now top of the Scottish government’s inverted-pyramid “sustainable transport hierarchy”.
Paths for All manager and long-time colleague Rona Gibb said he highlighted that walking was part of every journey – and how much more you saw and sensed compared to other ways of getting around.
But walking wasn’t just a day job for Ian – he literally “walked the walk”, as several people told me.
He had a life-long passion for being outside in nature, and previously worked at the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage – now NatureScot.
This was fostered at an early age by his dad, who Ian continued to accompany in his 90s in his wheelchair, while Ian delighted in walks with his granddaughter.
He also helped put the case for walking for physical and mental health, for those recovering from trauma and to help combat loneliness.
He became a linchpin in bringing disparate cycling and walking groups to work together and become a more effective joint lobbying force.
This was to contribute to significant increases in the Scottish government’s budget for active travel – or walking, wheeling and cycling – which this week reached £115 million a year, boosted by match funding from councils and others.
It’s still tiny compared to other parts of transport, but nearly treble that of three years ago.
As walking and cycling promoters Sustrans’ executive director Scotland John Lauder put it: “Sixteen years ago, it was hard to get a meeting with ministers.
"It was even harder for politicians to take seriously walking and cycling as a thing they should fund.
"Ian came up with a coherent case for that level of investment in a great alliance with other people – he was a standard bearer.”
But in addition to his achievements, Ian’s colleagues and associates also spoke of his warmth and kindness, with many coming to regard him as a role model and mentor.
One said he possessed the rare combination of being vastly experienced and knowledgeable while also gentle, emphatic and motivating.
I’m told Ian was also typically self-effacing when he received the CBE, saying he was so pleased for the sector – only to be reminded it was for his achievements.
A counterpart told me: “He was so quick to share credit for everything.
"He never had a bad word to say about anyone, never a cross word – and transport can get very cross.”