Ian Falconer (The last Headmaster of Balerno School)

by untangledwebl
Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’

Proposer of the Toast  “Our Hosts” or “The Landlord – Landlady”   1976

Proposer of the Toast  “The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns”   1978

Proposer of the Toast  “The Chairman”  1980

Proposer of the Toast  “Chairman & Croupiers”  1981

Proposer of the Toast  “The Lasses”  1983

Proposer of the Toast  “Guests & Artistes”  1985

Proposer of the Toast  “Let it Blaw – the Balerno Burns Club”   1986

Recited the Address  “To a Haggis”  1990

Proposer of the Toast  “New Members & Guests”  1993


Ian was born on the 30th May 1924. Christened Finlay John McKenzie Falconer, he was however known to everyone as Ian.

He was brought up at 35 Muirpark, Eskbank near Dalkeith along with his brother Richard (Dick) who was 6 years older. Their father Alexander was manager of the local co-op shop and his mother Catherine was a trained cook. Of those early days, Ian could recall his father weighing out loose tea and sugar into brown paper bags and cutting butter from the block, and wrapping it in greaseproof paper.

Educated at Dalkeith primary school, Ian had a happy carefree childhood. He would recount days when he and his pals would head out on their bicycles, only returning late in the day for tea. Childhood holidays were spent in Alness visiting family. The epic journey, in Ian’s father’s Model T Ford was one that was often recounted.

Ian’s first job as a schoolboy was working for Bruce the grocer delivering messages to customers on his pushbike. He also worked for Miss Wallace a neighbour in Muirpark who developed photographic films in her home. Knowing that Ian had a bicycle, she offered him the job of collecting and delivering films from local chemists – sometimes involving a 15 miles round trip.  Ian did however get his driving licence some years later and would recount the time he borrowed his Dad’s car late one evening to get to Eskbank post box – wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown as he didn’t expect to see anyone – unfortunately, the car ran out of petrol.

Ian enjoyed his school days and would frequently speak of one particular teacher ‘Daggie’. Miss Dalgleish taught English and was undoubtedly responsible for instilling Ian’s lifelong love of poetry. Ian seemed to have a photographic memory for each and every piece of poetry that he learned. Given the right excuse, Ian would recount entire poems at the drop of a hat – A talent which continued right into his 90’s.

On leaving Dalkeith High School at 17, Ian went to Edinburgh University. However, like many of that era, his studies were interrupted when, upon turning 18, he was called up for war service and joined the RAF.  After completing his training as an aircraft engine fitter, Ian was posted to Charterhall air base in January 1944 where he served as a Flight Mechanic servicing and maintaining Mosquito aircraft. Apparently, Charterhall was a pretty basic war time station with no permanent amenities – minimal heating and only 2 blankets per person. Ian later moved to Leaming where he was stationed until his demob in March 1947. Despite the tough conditions and harsh realities of war, Ian frequently recalled the camaraderie and spirit that the men shared and kept up some of his friendships for many years.

Having already decided on a career in teaching, Ian returned to Edinburgh University in October 1947 where he studied English and Maths. He graduated 3 years later and started teaching maths at Dalkeith High School in 1951. Ian moved to nearby Kippie Law School where he met Fiona, a Domestic Science teacher and his wife to be, at the school badminton club. Ian was also a good rugby player and played fullback for Dalkeith Rugby Club first team.

Ian married Fiona on 4th April 1956 at Cults West Church, Aberdeen and they spent their first 4 years of married life in a small farm cottage at D’arcy, near Dalkeith.

In 1958 Ian moved to Woodburn Primary School as Assistant Head Teacher and moved home to Bonnyrigg, Ian moved to Balerno School as Headmaster in 1961 on the retirement of Mr Couper who had been in post for 16 years. Ian thereby became the last Headmaster of Balerno School in the days when the old village school was being outgrown by the rapidly rising number of  Balerno’s children.

In1962 Ian & family moved into the old School House which was to remain the family home for over 40 years. In those days, Balerno was very much a village school with a role of around 100 pupils. Over the years however the village grew rapidly and on 22nd June 1971, Balerno School closed and the children, staff and everything else loosely connected to them moved to the new Dean Park School in Marchbank Gardens.

With a strong sense of duty, Ian became involved in every aspect of community life running as a local council candidate, organising the school PTA and supporting the children’s Gala committee. He also joined Balerno church where he went on to serve as both Elder and Treasurer for over 30 years. For many years, he was involved in putting up the Christmas lights on the enormous tree outside the church which, in those days, was undertaken with a very long ladder!

Ian was a great supporter of the Burns Contests at the School when Willie Shanks, himself a huge supporter, took over as Secretary of ‘Let it Blaw’ in 1973. Together, Ian and Willie ensured the Burns Competitions were in very safe hands.

Ian attended ‘Let it Blaw’ as a Guest in 1976 and, in Willie Shank’s world back then, that meant he had applied for membership and been accepted without him necessarily realising it. Ian was thereafter a regular at our annual suppers and was granted Honorary Membership of ‘Let it Blaw’ for his lengthy support of the School Contests.

A keen gardener, Ian maintained beautiful hanging baskets and undertook many garden projects. He was also a skilled woodworker and over the years created tables, book cases, display cabinets and many other items for the home.

Ian and his wife retired from teaching in 1988. Having witnessed several generations of the same families pass through his school gates, Ian always took pleasure in meeting former pupils and hearing about how they were getting on.

Never ones to sit idle, they joined the local walking group in Balerno where Ian took on the role of walk leader. This involved planning walks and weekend trips – a role he relished.  Ian also got involved driving the minibus for the Alzheimer’s club in Balerno and, as a member of the Rotary Club, he attended meetings and participated in many of their activities and worthy causes.

Feeling the need to downsize, Ian and his wife moved from the School house to Ashley Grange, in Balerno. He missed his garden greatly but, as a key member of the Residents association at Ashley Grange, he was kept busy. With a growing awareness that they weren’t getting any younger, they decided in 2017 to relocate closer to their daughter Kathryn in Aberdeen. So, Ian’s last attendance at ‘Let it Blaw’ was thought to be in January 2017.

Ian and Fiona soon settled into their new apartment at Thorngrove House in Aberdeen. With support from carers, they were able to remain in their own home there for almost 5 years during which Ian celebrated his 95th birthday. Sadly, in October 2021, following a series of falls and a prolonged hospital stay, the family made the difficult decision that it was time for Ian’s wife to move into full time residential care. Having recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary,  Rather than remain on his own, Ian went to live with his daughter Kathryn. As  Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’, he was invited to future suppers to which he always politely declined. Then came COVID ! There were many terrible things associated with the international pandemic and ‘Let it Blaw’ was forced to hold its annual supper online with 60/70 in attendance.  With Kathryn’s laptop, and despite a troublesome internet connection, Ian could again “attend” the 2021 and 2022 ‘Let it Blaw’ suppers. His attendance was highlighted by the Club Presidents and Ian was enthusiastically welcomed.

Ian spent his last 6 months with Kathryn. He was admitted to hospital on the 12th February 2022 and passed away on the 3rd March.

Ian was modest and unassuming in the extreme and abhorred the idea of fuss or accolades. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word; kind, caring and with a wonderful sense of humour, he had a genuine interest in everyone he met and a real thirst for knowledge. He had both a methodical and inquisitive mind and was a stickler for good timekeeping.

Always willing to offer guidance and support, his favourite mantra was ‘Always be true to yourself’. A fitting way to end Ian’s story.