James N Blair (1921-2010)
For over a quarter of a century the Rev Jim Blair ministered in Shetland. He was a very able preacher whose background and interests gave him a rich variety of experiences and subjects to draw on.
His family were involved in the manufacture of carpets at the famous Stoddard’s factory in Elderslie, in Renfrewshire, and that was where he began his working career. However, when the war came Jim joined the Royal Engineers and among other places served in India, North Africa, France and Germany.
It was during this time that Jim felt a call to the ministry of the church though he was more keen to do good than to secure a good church. His initial thought was to go back to Egypt as a missionary which he felt was far better than trying to be “a holy man in Glasgow”. Strangely it was with the Methodist Church that Jim initially trained but he was later offered a post with the Home Board of the Church of Scotland who sent him to Shetland.
He arrived in here in 1952 and served for a short time as a lay missionary in Walls and Sandness. He immediacy fell in love with the place and it was there that he also met Lillian Fraser who he later married.
Family circumstances took Jim back to nearer his home and for a number of years he was lay assistant at Milton of Campsie. During this time Jim and Lillian had three of a family: Neilson, Laurence and Caroline. He also had the opportunity to study at Glasgow University where he gained the necessary qualifications to enter the full-time ministry of the Church of Scotland.
Jim’s first charge was Yell where he was ordained and inducted in 1962. The family initially lived at the old manse at Burravoe before moving to the new manse at Mid Yell.
His ministry was never without incident and Jim later related some of his escapades in his series of articles in the Shetland Life magazine.
In one he told of a visit he made to an old lady in Yell late on a winter’s afternoon. The old lady went to make tea and told Jim to light the Tilley lamp. Jim was never very practical and his efforts nearly set the house on fire. The old lady had to come to the rescue, and later when he was leaving she said: “Minister, whan du comes ta veesit me again du wid be better ta come on a simmer’s day.”
Jim was always full of fun and he was never slow to laugh at himself and to see the funny side of many a difficult situation.
In 1967 he and his family moved to Sandwick from where he looked after the united parishes of Sandwick, Cunningsburgh and Quarff. Along with Bobby Bristow he founded the 1st Sandwick and Cunningsburgh Company of the Boys’ Brigade and he invested much time and interest in promoting its success. He was also keen on singing and he organised regular soirees which proved very popular.
Jim then decided to return to the district where his ministry had begun at the West Side, though the charge now included Sandsting and Aithsting. After seven years he retired though in retirement he was always on the go, taking services, conducting baptisms, weddings and funerals, and visiting folk at home and in hospital.
He also published three books in which he related the story of his life and also the ministry of others who had served the Church in Shetland.
Throughout his ministry Jim’s open, friendly and understanding nature put folk at ease and allowed him to share his faith. He was very approachable and he had the ability to connect with folk of all ages and circumstances. He would even go where angels feared to tread and he would often help and support those that others would too readily forget.
“It is difficult to put into words our feelings. He lived such a full life and touched life at so many points that even to mention all his interests is an undertaking. His home was a real home to which all were given a warm welcome, and he sorely missed his wife when she died. He had a generous mind, a ready sympathy and an open kindness. He was truly one of life’s gentlemen.” Those were words written not of Jim – but of his grandfather. Someone that he greatly loved and sought to emulate. He more than succeeded. He truly was one of life’s gentlemen. Someone who through his faith and life generously shared with others the love of Christ.