Charles Richard 'Dick' Poor departed this life on 16 October 2021, having arrived almost exactly 95 years earlier in Sheffield. He was the eldest of five children and was already working at the age of 15 when his younger brother arrived. The family moved to Bristol in 1932, when his father left the Merchant Navy and Dick started work in the British Aircraft Company, then probably producing the famous Blenheim Bombers. Good at maths, he worked in the accountancy department and his father's death in 1942 rendered him the family breadwinner and guiding hand to his younger siblings.
Just after the war, Dick completed a night school course qualifying with an HNC in Commerce, including costing, statistics and economics. His enforced paternal role possibly awakened something which was to lead eventually to him being one of the most respected social workers in Scotland.
His interest in the local church boy's club led him to focus on achieving the formal educational qualifications for a career in the care of children and young people, first at Fircroft, the Birmingham Further Education College which had been established by George Cadbury in 1909, then Barnett House, Oxford. At Barnett House, he obtained the Diploma in Public and Social Administration, a year later qualifying for the Diploma in Social Administration and Certificate in Childcare at the University of Liverpool. As part of this course, he had to undertake a practical work placement in Lancashire Children's Department where his supervisor, senior childcare officer Elizabeth Stanners, described him as an unnerving student because he could quote with authority even the most obscure sections of the Children Act 1948.
When qualified, he went to work in Lancashire, married his erstwhile supervisor and embarked on an almost 60-year marriage ending with Bette's death in 2016. They had three children, Katherine, who died in 1997, Leonie and Joanna.
He was appointed Children's Officer for the County of Stirling (Bette's home area) in 1966 and Agnes Forrester, then a young childcare officer recalls him opening his office door, introducing himself warmly to staff and saying how much he would need their help to improve the services for children. She recalls an impressive presence but also an intense humanity, sometimes bordering on the zany, like the time she ran out of petrol on a roundabout. Having no means of towing her car, Dick used his car to push her to safety from behind, bumper to bumper! Agnes finished her career still a colleague of Dick's in the Lanark area.
This was an exciting and challenging time for social workers in Scotland. The publication in 1964 of the Kilbrandon Report on the care of children and young people put Scotland on a rather different course from England, most notably by the prospect of the Children's Hearing system. This, plus the quite radical ideas in the subsequent White Paper, Social Work in the Community,
put Scotland at the heart of international childcare and social work interest.
There had been debate about whether the new functions should be in the orbit of education or health, but perhaps remarkably, the Social Work Scotland Act 1968 created prestigious departments of social work, headed by directors of social work with important statutory functions. These provisions were to be made by the County and City Councils of Scotland, but also by the Large Burghs, a move which some felt created too many departments of insufficient scale to be properly viable.
The profession of social work was undergoing similar radical change, with the creation in 1970 of the British Association of Social Workers integrating several hitherto separate associations, such as the National Association of Probation Officers, the Association of Child Care Officers, the Institute of Medical Social Work, the Institute of Social Welfare, and the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers.
I first met Dick in 1967, when as county welfare officer for Angus, my colleague children's officer, the redoubtable Julia Robertson, introduced me to 'young Richard Poor' whom she saw as the harbinger of future good times for childcare in Scotland. Julia was one of a number of stalwart women in the childcare service whose dedication was legendary, and she rightly saw in Dick the dawning of a new era when the importance of childcare would be properly recognised, professionally driven and committed to the highest standards.
We met frequently at the many Scottish Office consultations and other meetings, which preceded and followed the establishment of the social work departments and I was impressed not only by the depth of his knowledge and commitment to childcare but by the warmth and enthusiasm of his interest in aspects of social work which were new to him.
With the implementation of the Social Work Scotland Act, Dick was appointed depute director of social work for Stirling County and in 1970 became director of social work for Argyll, where his capacity for sheer hard work, his tenacious determination, vision and integrity became growingly acknowledged by his colleagues in the Association of Directors of Social Work.
Clearly identified as an important leader in the field, his remarkable work rate was becoming well known and Tim O'Brien, then his assistant director, recalls accompanying Dick 'on a high speed drive to catch the Corran Ferry, missing it and having to go all the way back to Lochgilphead via Fort William, then talking about work all evening, before checking the mail in the office at midnight, and only then allowed home'.
But despite all this industry and commitment, Dick could have a remarkable effect on children. Tim goes on: 'When my two small sons were bought some toy cars from a jumble sale and one of them was a replica of Dick's car, they fought over who would be Mr Poor. The eldest son prevailed, which led the youngest to say, Oh well, I'll just be God then
Back in Glasgow, as assistant director of social work, I had frequent contact with Dick over Glasgow's 'outposts' in Argyll. It was not unusual, or indeed unreasonable, for local officials to be a bit resentful of these services, but Dick was ever tolerant and consistently focused purely on the well-being of the people being looked after. So to all of the qualities this man possessed could be added a remarkable willingness to cooperate, and an unswerving commitment to the people we served.
The arrival of Strathclyde Regional Council in 1975 saw Dick appointed divisional director of social work for the Lanark sub region, and I was delighted when Jim Gregory, the director, asked me to be part of Dick's team. Lanark was arguably the most complex division of Strathclyde with six previous authorities to be integrated or harmonised, ranging from the glossy perfection of East Kilbride to the more earthy deprivation in parts of Coatbridge and Motherwell, and including the affluence – and poverty – in large rural tracts, and in county towns such as Lanark and Strathaven. And for good measure, add to that the failing steel works in Motherwell, the State Institution in Carstairs, and the new Shotts Prison.
An early test for Dick was the derailing of an ammunition train in Hamilton requiring the evacuation of many houses and the provision of temporary accommodation and shelter. Although an entirely new experience for Dick, he took it in his stride setting up an HQ and rest centre in Hamilton where Lawrence Boyle, and the Rev Geoff Shaw, respectively chief executive and convener of Strathclyde Regional Council, came in the middle of the night to oversee events.
Working closely with Dick in Hamilton, I witnessed daily his work capacity, which was without parallel in my experience. He had an abundance of energy and a capacity to channel it constructively at all times. He tackled the many problems which a complex department threw up with relish, with incisive understanding, a quick grasp of detail and an unerring capacity to get to the heart of things.
Despite working 12-hour days as standard, he still found time to play a major part in establishing the Six Circle Group with Charles Hill, the governor of Noranside Borstal in Angus. This group took a number of Borstal trainees and children with special needs, together with their respective staff on a hugely successful summer camp in Aultbea. The organisation went from strength to strength adopting as its motto 'in meeting the needs of others, we meet the needs in ourselves'. Dick was awarded the OBE for his work in this venture.
One of the main achievements of Strathclyde's social work committee was the establishment of a series of officer/member groups charged with in-depth study of particular areas of work, and Dick, together with Monklands Councillor Charlotte Toal led one on childcare, producing an exhaustive and widely acclaimed report entitled Room to Grow
Bob Winter, Dick's counterpart divisional director of social work in Glasgow and later Lord Provost of the city, recalls the report as having provided a policy framework for children's services across the board, and having made a huge contribution to the improvement of services across half of Scotland. His wife Sheena was on the adoption and fostering working group for the report and was full of praise for Dick's leadership and for his highly inclusive way of engaging with staff.
Bob comments: 'During his Strathclyde years, Dick fulfilled his own duties in an exemplary way and contributed widely to regional policy formation. For example, he oversaw the creation of the Out of Hours
service and did a superb job in successfully establishing a team which could respond to the public right across the region, from a central base, by means of one phone call'.
Bob was the secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Work from its inception in 1969 until 1975, and observed Dick's important contribution in securing a firm and respected reputation and influence for the cause of social work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), and with the Civil Service.
In 1987, Dick retired, slowed down almost imperceptibly, taking on the role of secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Work, an organisation of which he had previously been president, doing audits and reviews of local authority services, and jointly authoring a history of Cornton Vale women's prison.
Having moved to Ullapool, he and Bette nurtured their intense love of the Scottish Highlands by participating in this already lively community. Bette established and ran the book corner in the Ceilidh Place, while Dick engaged in a clutch of activities: securing funding for the establishment of the Ullapool Museum in an old Thomas Telford church, helping print the local newspaper, run the youth club, take bookings for the village hall and even agreeing to run the local garage for a week when the owner was on holiday, one of the few times he'd been seen flustered.
Beyond this, he dug his own and neighbours' gardens, made stockpiles of jam, learned to swim, play short tennis, and even had a go at the oboe, giving his first (and only) recital at the opening of Ullapool swimming pool.
His time in Ullapool was highly productive and on hearing of his death, local people expressed their thanks, not only for all he had achieved but also for how well he had helped others to learn about the management of building projects and voluntary groups, and for his thoughtfulness and ever present sense of humour. But sadly, there was a downside. His eldest daughter Kate developed cancer and Dick elected to play a major role in her nursing care, travelling back and forwards between Glasgow and Ullapool until her death in 1997. After Kate's death, Bette and Dick, despite treasuring their time in the Highlands, decided to move to Perthshire to be closer to Leonie and Joanna, and the grandchildren.
As ever, they looked forward, getting to know a new community and making friends in Alyth. Now in his late 70s, Dick shifted gear slightly, settling for digging mostly his own garden but taking on the roles of Church Elder and secretary of the local Labour Party, joining the Literary Society, and enrolling as a volunteer driver in the hospital car service. Dick and Bette made their mark in Alyth, not least during the Scottish independence referendum upon which they held differing views. Their windows displayed a Yes poster – and a No!
Always an art lover, particularly of music and opera, Dick enjoyed many performances over the years, including the Wagner Ring Cycle,
and was always keen to recruit and enthuse family and friends. Immersed in performances, his exuberance could lead to some humming along, whistling, stomping of feet, conducting and repeated 'bravos!'
Bob Winter, who was the last director of social work for Strathclyde, concludes: 'Put simply, Dick was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. He was invariably kind, supportive and honest, and made a positive contribution to whichever endeavours he took up in his fruitful life. Like many others, I will miss him from my life but always smile when I think of him'.
It is tempting to give Bob the last word. For it speaks of a full life, well-lived, and the achievements of this most remarkable of men. Nobody would quarrel with that. Except Dick. He'd be cringing, brow lifted over rolling eyes, and muttering in toe-curling embarrassment. He might even have blown one of his famous raspberries, with a wink, just for Morven, Jamie and Phoebe, his grandchildren.
Bob Nummey is a retired local government officer