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Justice campaigner, Broughty Ferry minister and letter writer, Rev Dr John Cameron, remembered

Rev Dr John Cameron.
Rev Dr John Cameron.

Rev Dr John Cameron was a man of extraordinary depth and talent.

He was an avid campaigner for justice, a successful athlete, a devoted minister, teacher and family man.

As a golfer and skier, he was accomplished and developed a renown for being an outspoken and prolific letter writer.

Speaking at his funeral and in tribute to him today, Dr Cameron’s good friend of 50 years, the Very Reverend Professor Iain Torrance, said there was no one like the 78-year-old, adding that he was someone who truly made a difference.

Early years

John Urquhart Cameron was born in Dundee on June 10 1943.

He was the eldest of four sons for the Rev Alexander Cameron and Margaret Urquhart.

On his father’s side he was related to the distinguished journalist James Cameron and the Gaelic poet Kenneth MacLeod.

His maternal grandfather, Hugh Urquhart, was one of Scotland’s notable 20th Century railway engineers. And as a child John often spent summer in Brittany with his French grandmother.

Rev Dr John Cameron was an accomplished athlete both here and in America.

He grew up in Slamannan, near Falkirk, and attended Falkirk High School where he was leader of the Stirlingshire Schools orchestra. As a tenor soloist, he took part in the school’s musical productions.

While adept at almost every form of sport, it was as a runner he came to national prominence and gained full international colours the year he left school.

Gifted student

Professor Torrance said: “He had every gift. Academically he won prizes across the board and placed in the top rung of the St Andrews University Bursary Competition going up with a major scholarship.

“At St Andrews he continued to win class medals and to compete internationally in athletics. He also became a tenor soloist with Cedric Thorpe Davies famous Chapel Choir.”

In 1962 John was offered a sports scholarship to Pomona College, California. Alongside his business studies he competed on the North America athletics circuit until 1964.

Return to Fife

After graduation he returned to St Andrews and started research for his Physics PhD.

“Since his studies depended on the early mainframe computers which he could only access at night, his days were free,” explained professor Torrance.

“He was thus able to continue singing with the Chapel Choir and the Renaissance Singers.”

He was also charities convener, an active member of the Kate Kennedy Club and the SRC. And when his his running days were over, he played for the university golf team.

After completing his doctoral studies he joined the international marketing division of GlaxoSmithKline.

Marriage and ministry

In the summer of 1970 John married Jill Sjöberg in London. Shortly after he surprised everyone by deciding to enter the ministry of the Church of Scotland.

The couple returned to Edinburgh where they bought a flat in Marchmont. While John read theology at New College, Jill worked as a physiotherapist in the Astley-Ainslie Hospital.

“As usual he did a lot more outside the lecture room than in it. He was soon part of Edinburgh University golf team, he played cricket for Carlton, and he began lecturing in Physics at Napier University. ”

Concern for ministers

“Early in our friendship, about 1971, John told me that his father had died in 1968 when an ill-maintained chimney in the manse crashed through the roof in a storm,” professor Torrance explained.

“John was only 25 when that tragedy happened. However, he later wrote a booklet about the maintenance of manses which was adopted by the Church of Scotland. John very much wanted to stop that kind of thing happening again.”

Broughty Ferry bound

After graduation John served as assistant minister at Glasgow’s Wellington Church for a year, where his daughter Clare was born.

Early in 1974 he was called to St Stephens and West Church, Broughty Ferry where he remained for 35 years, and where his son Alex was born.

Rev Dr John Cameron shown centre being congratulated for 25 years of ministry with wife Jill, far left.

At St Mary’s College in St Andrews he completed his second doctorate as an external student – this time in theology.

Meanwhile, he lectured in physics, maths and economics in Dundee, and taught religious education to several generations at Dundee High School.

As a hobby John turned to the family tradition of journalism. First with the Pergamon Press in Oxford and then at the Good Ski Guide and Good Holiday Magazine, which allowed John and Jill to visit every corner of the world.

Rev Cameron with wife Jill and children Alex and Clare.

John also served as a padre in the Royal Naval Reserve and latterly The Black Watch.

Sporting family

The Cameron family main holiday was devoted to skiing with special memories of new years spent in St Moritz and racing down the Cresta Club’s toboggan run.

He also thoroughly enjoyed curling and for many years was Chaplain to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and enjoyed matches in Europe.

Avid skier and curler John Cameron.

However, there was always golf.

In the late ’60s he was Gerald Micklem’s caddie. And in 1969 claimed Willie Whitelaw’s Captain’s Sovereign – the only “sovereign caddie” to subsequently become a member of the Royal and Ancient (R&A).

Golfing success

John was an extremely competitive golfer, achieving success in multiple events across half a century.

Perhaps most notably he was the first golfer in the R&A to win the Canadian Silver Beaver twice.

This was testament to near ruthless determination and ability to play in all conditions.

Even as his game shortened, his putting never left him. He won Elie’s over-70s world championships and the St Andrews’ town putting championships well into his 70s.

Rev Dr John Cameron in full swing.

Golf was always a great family affair too, with Jill and many of the Sjobergs keen players.

Both Clare and Alex were introduced to the game by John during annual summer holidays in Elie.

Elie and Earlsferry

Professor Torrance said: “The combined towns of Elie and Earlsferry were a very special place for John, with many great memories shared with family and friends across the years.

“During his final few years, John took great delight as the next generation were introduced to the game of golf, regularly playing with his grandchildren on the nine-holers at Elie and St Andrews.

“And enjoyed taking the opportunity to pass on wisdom drawn from 60 years of battling the famous Fife links.”

Latter years and letter writing

In retirement, keen to maintain an active brain, John turned to the newspapers.

“Over the years he took pleasure in being able to reach more people through his letters than he ever did from the pulpit, and built a loyal following.

“He used to send these to me, always with the email heading: ‘Warblings’ or ‘More Warblings’,” professor Torrance said.

“He was particularly proud to have supported his friend Margo Macdonald in her efforts to legalise assisted dying in this country.

“As well as campaigning for the release of Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi and his wrongful conviction in connection with the Lockerbie bombing with falsified evidence.”

Rev Dr John Cameron.
Rev Dr John Cameron.

Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi even sent John Christmas cards from Barlinnie in gratitude for his kindness.

John’s ability to dissect problems and relentlessly attack faddish causes were part of his continuing ministry for others.

“A wide-ranging polymath, he used his power of intellect and penetrating observation to offer humane and rational solutions. He was someone who made a difference and we thank God for his life and ministry.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.