Ramsay George Small

a tribute by Iain Small given at Dad's funeral

Ramsay George Small was born on the 5th of February 1930, in Calcutta, the third of the four children of Robert and Anne Small. His father a jute mill manager remained in India with his wife throughout the 1930s, although Ramsay came home at the tender age of 2, to be looked after by his grandmother, a woman who was to have a profound influence on his upbringing and values.

He was educated at Rosebank School, then Harris Academy, and his academic ability allowed him to go on to study medicine at Queens College Dundee, then part of St Andrews University.

As a young man, at school and then university, he had also committed himself to the three other things, which, together with medicine, would make up the 4 cornerstones of what, no-one can deny, was a fulfilled life: his Christian faith, his family, and his love of music.

Brought up in a Christian home, he had become a Christian himself, and was baptised in Rattray Street Baptist Church in 1945. He would go on to become church organist and choirmaster there. Through his involvement with the vibrant young evangelical community in Dundee at the time, he met, and later fell for Aileen Masterton. They married in 1952, when Ramsay was still a student, and set up home together.

In 1954, he graduated and began work, at Stracathro Hospital, and Maryfield Dundee. Ronald was born that year, with Douglas following in 1955. Where they found time for family life when he was working the sort of hours junior doctors had to work in the 1950’s is a mystery to me, and national service in the RAMC must have come as something of a relief.

If you go to the village museum in Crail, you can find an old black and white photograph of the ‘foreign language school, mid1950s’, and hiding in the corner is a character who looks suspiciously like Adolf Hitler on the run. This is my father, providing medical care to would be spies learning Russian in the East Neuk of Fife.

By 1958, Kenneth had arrived, and the family moved to Ayrshire, as by then Ramsay had completed his Diploma in Public Health and decided to pursue a career in that specialty. He returned to Dundee in 1961, now with four boys, to take up the post under the Medical Officer of Health of the city, Ian Weir, eventually becoming a principal medical officer there, a position he held until 1974.

1961 also saw the beginning of his 42 year relationship with 46 Monifieth Road, and with Broughty Ferry Baptist Church. 

At the time a tiny fellowship, struggling to survive, my mother tells of an evening when my father turned up for a midweek prayer meeting to find only he and Wyn Christie there. Downhearted, and close to giving up, my father listened to Wyn’s earnest prayers for the growth of the church, and they carried on. I think they agreed not to close the meeting with a hymn that evening.

I remember Sunday evenings, the four of us dressed in our kilts, when the Small family made up half the congregation. Fortified with fruit gums from Betty Kinloch, we would sit under the watching eyes of our parents. I well remember Douglas’s disgust at being denied the chance to watch the 1970 World Cup final, because it was on a Sunday evening and we had to go to church.

His faithfulness in the small things of the Christian life were always as important to him as were the grander schemes of church life. He was a good listener, a comforter, a man of wise council, as well as a preacher and teacher of the word of God.

By the 1970s, Ramsay had become involved with the Baptist Union of Scotland at a national level, and became its President in 1972. By then he was also Secretary in Broughty Ferry, and was preparing for a change of direction in his career, brought on by health service re-organisaiton in 1974. That Presidential year, I was too wee to be left at home, and my mother and I must have heard him preach sermons in about 20 churches throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. It must have been tempting just to use the same one every week; not my father. And still he found time to preach in Broughty Ferry every month, write the magazine, take his turn on the organ rota, and take us to exotic, far away places for our holidays…. Strontian, Wester Ross, Skye, Inverary… rain and midgies.

Around about this time, and younger than I am now, he was to make acquaintance with an adversary which was to become the thorn in his flesh for the rest of his days, and for which only God’s grace was sufficient comfort. My father suffered from ischaemic heart disease for almost 40 years, and as a family we lived under the shadow of it’s impending danger, my mother more than any, only now brought to fruition in his death last week.

In 1974, he moved out of the old Local Authority Public Health system, and became a Community Medicine Specialist, with responsibility for infectious diseases,.. and found his professional home. In what seems now a second renaissance of public health, he was able to build links across Tayside in Infection Control, making contact within Local Authorities, General Practice, Laboratories and Secondary Care, he had a network of Flu spotter practices, contacts with both sections of the Constitution Street clinic… the chest bit and the other bit, and (for me), most memorably, a close working relationship with the late Bill Jamieson & Chris Pennington, and of course Dr Mary Kerr at the infection unit of Kings Cross. He also became involved at a National Level in disease prevention, through the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation, and the Scottish Infection Control Unit.

He often used to delight listeners by reminding them that throughout his professional life, diarrhoea was his bread and butter.

Never too professionally dignified or blinkered to recognise the human need behind the medical challenge, he came into his own in the mid 1980s, when HTLv3, (subsequently HIV) testing revealed an exponential rise in notified cases in the drug injecting community of Dundee. My father visited hundreds of people himself, contact tracing, counselling, giving out the news of a positive result. During that time, he was, as he always had been, following his Lord and Master into the places most of us would rather avoid.

Academically, of course, by then he had become a member, then fellow of the faculty of Community Medicine and an academic tutor, and had, under the encouragement of his friend and mentor, Alec Mair, become an Honourary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Community Medicine, the University of Dundee. He was also a visiting Lecturer at what we used to call the Bell Street Tech, now Abertay University.

And still he preached at Broughty Baptist Church, at least once a month, took his turn on the organ rota, wrote the magazine, was church secretary, and the Angus and Perthshire Baptist Association secretary, Christian Medical Fellowship member, ….and still found time to sing with and later chair Network, many of whose members are here today.

In 1985 he made his final career move, when he took over from his friend and colleague Ronnie Graham as Chief Administrative Medical Officer for Tayside.

This job required tact and diplomacy, a deft touch when dealing with tricky situations and prickly senior colleagues, an ability to deal with politicians and press with subtlety and grace. Who on earth was on that interview panel, they obviously didn’t know my father.

As a family, we celebrate the dubious tribute given to him, face to face, by a now long gone neighbour. After a typical loss of patience involving a half hour wait on double yellow lines and a gossipy delay, my father did what my kids would describe as ‘a Basil Fawlty’. Ignoring the lady, he berated my mother and I before encouraging us to get a move on before he got a ticket.

A couple of weeks later, the neighbour made a bee line for dad at the church door one Sunday morning..

“Remsay, I just want to tell you that you are the rudest man I have ever met… but then, what can you expect from a Baptist.”

Well what could you expect from this Baptist…. I’ll tell you what. Continued wisdom gleaned from the word of God, particularly the old testament prophets, preached from the pulpit round the corner, and given out in quiet moments and strict confidence to any who sought it. Professionally, he had become an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh,… an exam he could never have hoped to pass himself…. Nor me for that matter… but was soon to turn his efforts towards service of different kinds. Ill health was catching up, and eventually forced his retirement in 1989.

In the last 14 years, which I hesitate to describe as his retirement, he has developed music groups within the church, pursued his love of organ music through the local Tayside Organists society, and become actively involved in the National Trust for Scotland, as its local members group secretary and chairman. There will be people here today who know him through the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Abertay Historical Society, the Dundee Archivists, the Atholl Baptist Centre, and the Order of St John of Jerusalem, of which he became an officer last year.

This is a man who would tell his sons that they needed to slow down…..ah yes dad, do what I say, not as I do!

So much for the curriculum vitae, but what of the man? In ah the years I’ve kent my faither, I’ve found him to be a man of many contrasts, you might even say paradoxes.

He was a man who didn’t tolerate fools gladly, if indeed at all, but yet had endless patience for the disadvantaged and helpless.

A man of scrupulous integrity, frustratingly honest, with principles which he stuck to even when they cost him, and yet he could sit without prejudice with those whose lifestyles would horrify most of us.

He was a man who held dear to Baptist principles, who, none the less worked tirelessly for many years for an ecumenical church community in Broughty Ferry.

He was a man who was devoted to, and respected his wife through the 52 years of their marriage, yet who called her a stupid woman on an alarmingly regular basis.

He was a man who was tremendously proud of his children’s achievements, who would, nonetheless, take a good book along to a school prize giving or graduation.

He was, without doubt or argument, the worst driver I, or any of my brothers has ever seen, yet he last bashed his car in 1955.

He was a man who was comfortable in the presence of royalty and politicians, the great and the good of the medical elite, who never allowed himself, or his sons to forget that we were all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

He was a man who had a special device which allowed him to use even the tiniest stub of a pencil, who always recycled envelopes, and yet who would give you the last tenner from his wallet…,if mum had given him one.

When I sat down to write this, I was conscious of how difficult it would be to get the balance right, when talking of a man who tried to do so much with his life, and who achieved so much. Earlier, I mentioned the four cornerstones upon which he had built his life.

Throughout all the stages of his life, he loved his home, his family.. of all generations, even when they drove him nuts, and they often did.

He loved his work, whether paid or voluntary, ..I get the feeling that he tried to make a difference, with the ability that God had given him, and I know that he did, and many here can give greater testament to that than I can.

But above all, he was a man of Faith, who served his saviour through his music, his preaching, through broadcasting and writing, and through sitting quietly with a troubled soul, helping the Lord to have his way. It is for this, above all else, that we celebrate his life today.

He loved the minor prophets of the Old Testament, and it was through listening to him preach that I discovered the verse in Micah that has helped me to remember what life is really all about. I know it was one of his favourites, and I think it fits him well.

He has showed you O man, what is good,

And what does the Lord require of you

To act Justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.