Obituary: John Galloway Wallace, OBE,

BORN: 3 July, 1914, in Kelso. Died: 18 February, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 100.
Actuary and former Sick Kids chairman had a life-long love of climbing. Picture: ContributedActuary and former Sick Kids chairman had a life-long love of climbing. Picture: Contributed
Actuary and former Sick Kids chairman had a life-long love of climbing. Picture: Contributed

John Galloway Wallace was born in Kelso over 100 years ago. As his longevity proved, he was from strong stock; both sets of grandparents celebrated their golden weddings.

He was a remarkable man. He had an amazing memory and the sort of brain that made instant connections between people, places and events no matter how long ago they occurred. Whenever John made friends, he kept up with them there-after. Sunday evenings were devoted to letter writing – maybe sometimes difficult to decipher!

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His first memory, around age three, was of a zeppelin flying over his grandfather’s house in Makerston and the whole family huddling in the cupboard under the stairs to avoid the bombs.

His grandfather and father had started up an agricultural engineering firm in Kelso and he could recall the names of the numerous farms in the area until just before he died.

At Kelso High School, he studied languages, which remained an interest all his life. However he went on to study mathematics and physics at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1935. He joined the Scottish Life Assurance Company as an actuarial student and became a Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries at the last examinations in 1940 before they ceased until the end of the Second World War.

During the war, he went on to see military action in Europe and North Africa, having omitted to mention his qualification on his forms to enlist, as actuaries were a reserved occupation.

He passed the demanding course at the Military College of Science in Operational Research and went on to specialise in the problems associated with tank gunnery. From here, he was sent to North Africa, Sicily and Italy where he remained until the capture of Rome. For the remainder of the war, he was transferred to the 21st Army Group in Brussels then into Germany.

After the surrender of the Germans in 1945, he went on embarkation leave before given a further posting to command a unit going to Malaysia. However in the middle of his leave, the atom bomb was dropped and his war was over.

During his wartime travels, he never forgot his actuarial background and made efforts to find actuarial connections wherever he was located. This was particularly successful in Belgium where he found many actuarial textbooks had been destroyed so arranged for the Faculty to send some over after the war.

On his return to Scottish Life, he was promoted quickly to a series of different positions until he became general manager in 1956. For the next 20 years, he led a steadily expanding business with great drive and vision in all areas of its operations. One of his major achievements was to mutualise the company, which protected it from hostile bidders. All this time he sat in no ivory tower but was accessible to every member of staff and took an interest in all of them and their families.

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Apart from his work with Scottish Life, he was involved in many other organisations and activities. It was typical of John that he made a difference to virtually every group with which he came into contact.

He was elected president of the Insurance Society of Edinburgh followed by president of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Great Britain in 1968, the first Edinburgh president for 60 years. In 1973, he was elected president of the Faculty of Actuaries.

He was chairman of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children then treasurer of Lothian Health Board and a member of the Scottish Office health committee, which led to him chairing the sub-committee tasked with preparing Health Priorities for the Eighties.

All of these contributed to his award of the OBE in 1980.

He married Petricia Dallas in 1941 and had four daughters, Anne, Shona, Helen and Isobel. After 40 years of very happy married life, he was devastated when his wife died in 1981.

He kept in very close touch with all his family and lived to see ten grandchildren grow up and produce 20 great grandchildren.

Climbing had been a love all his life and he completed all the Munros, Corbetts and Donalds, as well as the English, Welsh and Irish 3,000-footers, finishing well into his eighties. He could even remember the name of every hill he had climbed! Mastering the computer, he wrote a book, History in the Hills, which links the hills he climbed to Scottish historical events.

With his prodigious energy, he gardened every day, curled, golfed, played bridge until his late 90s and travelled the world extensively.

He was an elder of the church for many years. His Burns Suppers and New Year’s Eve parties for everyone in his street were legendary as he was a well-loved and considerate neighbour.

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He died peacefully in his own home, which is what he always wanted.

His four daughters and their families survive him. They are all immensely proud of his long life, contributing so much to family life, the actuarial world and society in general.