Wednesday 28th Feb 2024

Ian Baillie – PeA 53-60


Remembering Ian Baillie – Submitted by Graham Riches (ThB, MaB 1952-60)

It was so sad and unexpected to learn that Ian Baillie, my long time Housey friend of over sixty years, had passed away. Ian had shared his cancer diagnosis but his emails masked his health concerns. His writing was always full of life, news of family, shared Old Blue acquaintances, travels and different projects we were working on.

One measure of the man is told in the three obituaries written by Ian’s professional soil science colleagues. He is rightly recognised as an internationally renowned scholar respected, admired, honoured and sought after world-wide for his knowledge, expertise and his outstanding research and teaching abilities. Whatever the cultural context Ian engaged not only with academia and governments but concern for local communities and their environment. All the time Ian’s boots would be firmly planted solidly on mother earth even when in the swamp clocking up his ‘soil auger borings’. As Sabrina Russo writes he was ‘daring and adventurous and thriving on new experiences Ian travelled the world as a soil surveyor.’

Such a testimony invites an earlier story, one which presages the life he led. In 1960-61, the year he left Christ’s Hospital before heading to Oxford, Ian was chosen as one of the school’s first three VSO volunteers. He was headed for Sarawak, then a British colony now part of Malaysia. However, getting there was another matter.

Founded in 1958, VSO was short on funds but with many high-level contacts throughout the colonial and business world. Sponsored by Shell Oil Ian and I travelled as supernumeraries aboard tankers on a five-week voyage from Rotterdam via the Red Sea with stops in Kuwait and Singapore before flying to Kuching. Yes, exciting for us twenty-year olds but a journey to be endured though too long to tell. Nevertheless, Ian’s unruffled disposition and dry humour ensured safe passage.

In Sarawak Ian had been placed to teach in the Kanowit Secondary School in the Sibu district close to the mouth of the Rejang river. One of his pupils in 1960 was Mosko Reuben, a Bidayuh Dayak taken from his mission school as a disadvantaged child eventually sent to KSS as a pioneer student. Mosko, now retired, was saddened to hear of Ian’s passing, remembering him as ‘always having something to tell and inspire us boys in the school’.

Remarkably within three years Mosko was a studying at CH (Col A 1963-65), followed by medicine at Cambridge and becoming one of the first two Dayak doctors practising in Sarawak.

Mosko’s arrival at Horsham had been facilitated by his former KSS Principal and Sarawak government education officials, and notably by Dr Gordon van Praagh, Head of Science at Christ’s Hospital and a strong VSO advocate; and undeniably by Ian’s early teaching role in helping bridge the educational divide between the Global South and North. A small step then perhaps, but highly significant. Indeed, as Mosko writes today, Sarawak ‘now has many Dayak doctors.’

Over the years they kept in touch. First in Horsham then in Kuching when Ian would return to Sarawak for his soil science survey work. In passing though he kindly tracked Mosko down inviting him along to dinner with former colleagues.

As Mosko recently reflected that as ‘a poor farmer’s son from a hill kampong’ he ‘had a unique and tremendous educational journey’, undoubtedly one shared over the years with countless other Old Blues far and wide and with today’s diverse Bluecoat boys and girls.

Beyond teaching school in Kanowit Ian spent time in the ‘ulu’ (the upriver back country) either tramping miles through the rain forest (there were no roads) warding of mosquitoes, alert for snakes; or on river journeys by longboat avoiding crocodiles in the lower reaches, then using his Ist XV second row forward strength helping haul the boats with their outboard engines up dangerous rapids or dragging them through the shallow waters on the way to visit the Sea Dayak Budu community development scheme.

I always looked forward to Ian’s visits. Not just the camaraderie, the conversation and a beer or two. Ian was practically minded, a man of the moment turning his hand to such immediate tasks as fixing and painting (bright red) a longboat shed roof blown off in a drenching downpour or cleaning out the pigsty (the pigs had all escaped), planting rubber seeds and clearing away invasive razor sharp Lalang grass. This was on his holiday! All the while Ian was invested in the broader projects’ educational aims.

Those long-ago days were early testament to the mettle of the man, Ian’s common humanity and sense of human justice. It was a harbinger of things to come. An Old Blue of whom we should all be immensely proud. RIP

With special appreciation to Dr Mosko Reuben (ColA 1963-63) for sharing his knowledge and experiences.

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