Obituary – George Patrick Campbell Fox
March 17, 1938 – January 6, 2017
STRONTIAN has lost one of the area’s best-loved characters, George Fox, who died on Friday January 6, aged 78.
Born and bred in Edinburgh, George spent almost five decades in the Sunart area and was the epitome of a true Highland gentleman. Thoughtful and generous with his time and input to so many aspects of village life, George was a friend to young and old alike. His easy wit and natural charm were matched by his kindness and genuine interest in the people he met and spoke to.
Nothing was ever too much trouble for George and he met all challenges with enthusiasm and good humour – particularly over the past few years when his own health was failing.
The son of Dorothy, a nurse, and William, a bus conductor, George was born in the Newington area of Edinburgh on March 17, 1938, and had an elder brother Francis (Frank).
He was working as a pig farmer when he met Helen Reay, also from Edinburgh, at a young farmers’ function. The couple married in 1961 and decided to make the move from East Lothian to the Old Manse at Anaheilt in 1968 in a bid to create a better future for their young family.
Having holidayed frequently in Fort William as a boy, George already loved the Lochaber area and the couple quickly embraced Highland village life, immersing themselves in the activities of the local community.
George took up a post in the local forestry industry before joining the county roads department. He went on to work for the Hydro Board as a linesman’s mate, completing 25 years’ service before retiring to concentrate on his many interests.
For many years, George was a stalwart of the village association, helping to organise the local sports day, Christmas party, dances and concerts, as well as the Strontian horticultural show – known affectionately to this day as ‘the wee show’. He served on the community council and was a retained firefighter for more than 25 years, earning his long-service medal. He was extremely proud to be involved in the local Remembrance Sunday service each year, reading the roll call to honour the fallen soldiers from the area.
When his son Graeme started high school in Fort William, George realised there was a need for a school transport service to enable local youngsters to travel to and from Lochaber High School without the need to board for the week. He established a bus service to transport them to and from the ferry and continued to provide a school taxi service for more than 30 years – a role he enjoyed hugely.
However, his greatest passion – other than his family and friends – was his interest in local history and it is as guardian of the Sunart Archives that George is perhaps best known outwith the immediate area.
Over a period spanning almost half a century, George amassed an incredible treasure trove of local photographs, newspaper cuttings, maps and census archives relating to the Sunart and wider Lochaber area. He also preserved a wide range of artefacts associated with crofting and the mining heritage of the area, and regularly welcomed visitors and researchers from all over the world, interested in finding out more about their family history.
On one memorable occasion, he succeeded in reuniting two groups of relatives who had contacted him independently and had not previously known of one another’s existence.
For many years, George organised a local exhibition, displaying his own photographs along with fascinating archive material in the village hall and at the local agricultural show - always careful to credit the source of any material gifted or loaned to him. He took a special interest in the work of Thomas Telford, and his book about the Sunart Floating Church is soon to be reprinted as part of a campaign to raise and preserve the recently-discovered anchor of this unique historical feature.
George’s dedication to the preservation of local heritage was recognised at the recent Scottish Heritage Angel Awards, held at Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. He was nominated by Sunart Community Council for the Lifetime Contribution to the Historic Environment category of the awards, which were established by Andrew Lloyd Webber to recognise the achievements of volunteers and community groups who work to preserve Scottish heritage. George reached the shortlist of 10 candidates from a total of 160 nominees.
He said at the time that he felt ‘humbled’ by the nomination, adding: ‘I enjoy what I do and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I just hope that Sunart Archives will continue to provide a valuable local repository for future generations.’
A committed family man, George was devoted to wife Helen and was a constant visitor to Dail Mhor Care Home, where she lived until her death in April of last year. In recent years, he campaigned for NHS Highland to provide assurances that the vital services provided by Dail Mhor will be retained for the benefit of local people for many years to come.
Following Helen’s death, he took great comfort in the company of his children and grandchildren, who were an enormous source of pride and joy for him.
George will long be remembered for his sociable nature and sense of fun. From silly hat birthday parties to dressing up as a Baywatch babe or Superman, George was undoubtedly game for a laugh. Always smiling and keen to share a story or two, he loved the company of others – young and old – and was often to be found in ‘his’ corner at the end of the bar at the Strontian Hotel, enjoying a ‘ha-ha’ (a large dram) and the craic with locals and visitors.
A man who wholeheartedly adored the community in which he lived, and the people around him, George’s legacy to Sunart and the surrounding area cannot be underestimated. He considered it a great privilege to have been caretaker of so many memories and was determined that the Sunart Archive should be preserved in its entirety for the benefit of future generations. It is to be hoped that his much-loved community will take steps to do everything possible to fulfil this heartfelt wish.
George died in hospital in Inverness following a brief period of ill health. He is survived by son Graeme, daughters Eilidh and Fiona, and grandchildren Neil, Jennifer and Sarah.
George was a friend to many and will be missed by all.