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Obituaries: Ian Balfour, Scottish lawyer, author, theologian and historian

Ian Balfour was a great man in every way. He was tall in stature, tall in intellect, and a polymath like a lawyer, author, theologian, and historian.

Ian was for many years the senior partner at his well-known family law firm Balfour & Manson. He was also, for many years, secretary of the Charlotte Baptist Chapel.

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Ian was born in Edinburgh in 1932, the eldest son of Francis Balfour, then a Balfour & Manson partner, and his wife Isabel Ingram.

Ian Balfour has become a senior partner in the family law firm (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Ian began his education at Edinburgh Academy in 1938, but was evacuated to Hamilton, Ontario, with his mother and brother William where they lived with their family, and attended Hillfield School until 1944. On his return he completed his studies at the Edinburgh Academy.

He went on to study at the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained an MA in 1953 and an LL.B. in 1955. At this time an apprenticeship was carried out alongside obtaining a law degree. So Ian began his training in the family business during the final year of his Masters, qualifying as a barrister in 1955.

During his university years, Ian enjoyed playing bagpipes in the Edinburgh University Pipe Band and was a member and then secretary of the Edinburgh Christian Union, as well as serving in the Territorial Army.

At the age of eight, Ian received a birthday party from his parents. She was followed, among others, by Joyce Pryde, another devotee of Bellevue Chapel. Ian invited five-year-old Joyce to accompany him on a garden tour of his then home in Lomond Road. Joyce said she could only do it if her mother approved. Mrs. Pryde did. From then on, Joyce and Ian were always treated as a couple in their church’s large youth group.

Ian and Joyce married in Edinburgh in 1958 and had four children together.

During his army cadet years in college he had undergone officer training, and in 1954 Ian qualified for a commission. He was called up for national service and was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps after his basic training. Then he passed out as the top caddie at Aldershot; her mother and Joyce went to watch the fainting parade.

Returning from national service in 1958, Ian joined Balfour & Manson. He was made a partner in 1959 at the good salary of £750 a year. He was later joined in the business by his younger brother, William. Subsequently, the business expanded, and increasingly larger sections of Frederick Street, where the business is still located, were purchased to meet increased housing needs.

During these years after college and the army, Ian Balfour considered becoming a lay preacher, which was the usual style of ministry at Bellevue Chapel. So he took an external comics degree from the University of London, graduating in 1959.

In 1963, Ian and Joyce moved from Bellevue Chapel to Charlotte Baptist Chapel, where Ian later became Chapel Secretary, then under the distinguished care of the late pastor, Derek Prime. The number of people attending the chapel grew until it had one of the largest congregations in Edinburgh, regularly filling the chapel to its capacity of 1,000 on Sunday mornings.

In 1965 the Solicitor for the Baptist Union of Scotland died and Ian agreed to take on this role. It was a professional meeting that took up a lot of his time.

He advised on all aspects of church life, including constitutional matters of churches as public places with free admission for all members of the public; planning issues; liquor license objections; and purchases of churches for the Baptist Union. The Baptist Union was growing, and many disused churches of other denominations were acquired during this time.

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Ian accepted an invitation to be President of the Baptist Union of Scotland for the year 1977-78. This again stimulated his academic interest in theology and he attended New College Edinburgh, where he obtained a doctorate in theology in 1980, after studying the life of one of the fathers of the Christian Church, Tertullian, who was a Roman convert to Christianity.

In the office, Ian was an innovative manager, streamlining many aspects of business operations. He organized staff development so that they could work with clients in different ways. This included the sale of properties and a property finding service for clients, all prior to the establishment of the Lawyers’ Property Centers.

Ian was one of the company’s first organizers of specializations. He became the full-time practitioner of the Court of Session within the Courts Department. There were also Private Client and Commercial departments.

He carried out his duties as a senior practitioner of the Court of Session, always to the best of his considerable ability, and with speed and determination, devoted to the cases of his grateful clients.

Ian has put clients first, both in his life at the law firm and within his firm. Having started his career in general medicine, as was customary in the 1950s, and having created specializations, he then put in place a number of policies for the conduct of business.

One of them was the openness of partners and legal staff, whether qualified or in training, to ask for help if they encountered difficulties in managing their work. It was Ian that these annoyances were mistaken for troubleshooting suggestions. Help was given voluntarily and quickly and solutions were found. Clients were always kept informed of cases of this kind, as they themselves were often at the heart of the exchanges of correspondence.

In addition to all this, the company hired four apprentices each year, then trainees when the training system changed. A number of Court of Session judges, sheriffs, tax prosecutors and defense attorneys have interned at Balfour & Manson under Ian’s tutelage.

In his management role, Ian oversaw the introduction of computers in 1983, which was early for a law firm. Every staff member was taught keyboard techniques and trained in the use and purpose of the computer system, supported by the company’s internal instruction manual, amusingly named “The Idiot’s Guide”. The electric word processor is gone, with the company’s first WP taken by the Royal Scottish Museum.

In his professional life, Ian also served as a Fiscal at the Royal College of Nursing which dealt with the discipline of nursing. He was also appointed as a tax clerk to the Law Society of Scotland on disciplinary matters, secretary to the SSC Society and chairman of the child support tribunal.

Ian retired from the firm in 1997. He remained secretary at Charlotte Chapel until 2000. In 1993 he was appointed co-hearer of Edinburgh Sheriff Court and his duties were later extended to Livingston, Jedburgh and Duns. He retired from this position at the age of 89 when the first health problems arose, having always kept a room in the Frederick Street office and having remained a consultant to the firm until then.

Ian spent many years writing historical documents about his family, an entire book on Charlotte Chapel, a history of Balfour & Manson and many other subjects that historically interested or entertained him. They can be found on his personal website, www.ianbalfour.co.uk.

Ian Balfour is survived by his wife of 64 years, Joyce Pryde, and their daughter and three sons, his brother William, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Lesley, his daughter, is a retired midwife, Robin is a doctor, Jeremy is an MSP and Sandy is a Chartered Surveyor.

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