William Burns, who has died aged 80, was a heroic life saver in Fife, an aspiring Olympian and a giant of the 1984 miners’ strike.
In 1964, he dived fully clothed into the icy waters of the River Leven to rescue two men whose car had plunged into the water.
Years later, William, known as Bill and Wullie, carried out a life-saving tracheotomy on a man at Kennoway shopping centre.
He also delivered a neighbour’s baby, served as a special constable and distributed food to the families of striking miners.
William was a central figure in his community to whom residents turned to for help.
He was an athletic practitioner of judo and had hopes of Olympic selection when a pit accident ended that dream.
William developed rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, which causes fusion of the spine in his mid 20s and had to give up work aged 30.
His daughter Brenda Bell said: “My father’s life after he had to give up work was full and worthwhile and shows that people with a disability have much to contribute.”
William was most associated with the heroic part he played in the rescue of two Burntisland men whose Austin Cambridge car plunged off Leven Pier one Sunday afternoon in November, 1964.
Bank manager Jack Simpson, 50, and his friend Stanley Bolam, 47, Dean of Guild at Burntisland, had been discussing plans for a masonic meeting when the vehicle crashed through a chain fence.
It ended up in the fast-flowing water between the River Leven and River Forth.
William, who was working at Methil power station, and his colleague Robert Heron, dived in fully clothed. William managed to free Stan Bolam from the car and swam him away from the vehicle.
Fisherman Thomas Johnston, who was on the quayside, threw a line which William grabbed and was hauled to shore holding Mr Bolam.
Brenda said Mr Bolam stayed in touch with her father for the rest of his life.
Remarkably, William did not mention the incident to his family when he got home and they only read about in in the newspapers the next day.
His workmates recognised his bravery by presenting him with a commemorative plaque, and he was later honoured by the Royal Humane Society.
William Burns was born into a mining family in Croy, near Cumbernauld, in 1941.
His family moved east in 1955 as part of the miners’ migration of the time.
At St Agathas School, Methil, he met his future wife, Alice Bradley. They married in 1962 and went on to have six children.
He followed the family route into mining and became a steel cable splicer. It was during his days working in mining that William learned first aid.
He later went on to work on the building of the new power station at Methil and, despite his medical diagnosis, continued with judo and rose to become a 7th Dan. He would also go on to serve as president of the Scottish Judo Association.
The family home was opposite Kennoway police station and, in the 1960s, officers would often call on Bill if they needed an extra pair of hands.
Self defence instructor
He eventually enrolled as a special constable and taught self defence to police officers across Fife. In the 1980s he received a long-service commendation from the force.
Brenda said: “He was known as a first aider from his workdays and there were many incidents where he was called out to serve the community.”
One of these was when a man took ill at Kennoway shopping centre.
Another life saved
“My dad just rushed into the shops, got the materials he needed and performed the tracheotomy. His life was saved but I don’t think my dad ever saw the man again.
“Another time a neighbour, whose wife was in labour at home came rushing in to ask my mum for help. He must have thought because she had had five children she would know what to do.
“But it was not something my mother could do so my dad stepped in and delivered the baby.”
Driven by principle
From an early age, William had been steeped in the concept of the politics of action. His great uncle had been Dan Taggart who served 40 years as a Labour councillor in the west of Scotland.
He had been a helping hand at the centre of his community and William followed his example.
William was a Labour Party member and applied his principles in every day life to help others.
Brenda said: “If there were barriers in the way of social justice he would break them down.
“People in the community came to him for help with many things including completing complicated forms for benefits, in particular for disability and mobility allowance.
“Helping people to claim for benefits was a huge part of his life in later years, it was one thing he could still do as his health and fitness failed.
“His success rate was so good that the social work department sent local people to him to help complete the forms.
Family man first
“But he was a devoted husband and family man first and foremost. He lived with a lot of pain but never complained.”
During the miners’ strike William was heavily involved in campaigning for the distribution of EU stockpiles of food, which he then helped distribute to families.
In the 1990s, he was president of Kennoway Bowling and Sports Club and was called the godfather because he knew the constitution inside out.
He was later made an honorary lifetime president for his work for the club and the people of Kennoway.
At William’s funeral £1,060 was donated to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
His family’s commitment to community continues. William’s granddaughter Eilidh Burns, 9, was recently sponsored to have her hair cut for the Little Princess Trust, a charity that provides real hair wigs, free of charge, to children and young people who have lost their hair through cancer.
Along with sponsorship money, her hair was donated to the cause.