David Reith, father of the late Fiona Reith (Ch, 1989), died on 11 November 2022, aged 89.
The following is an edited version of David’s obituary published by his family in The Scotsman in November 2022. His full obituary can be read at cheltoniansociety.org/pages/obituaries.
The only child of an Aberdonian father who was a partner in an engineering company in India, and a musically talented mother, Alan David Reith had an interesting childhood, moving to Jersey with his parents as a young boy only for them to be evacuated due to the imminent German invasion. The family moved to Ireland where David attended Aravon Prep School near Bray and later College.
David’s schooling was cut short aged 14 when he contracted tuberculosis, resulting in years of lonely isolation, first on the Isle of Man and later in a sanatorium in Ruthven, Wales. The treatment at the time was primitive, with his quarters consisting of a solitary hut in the sanatorium grounds with windows open to the elements. An x-ray required so much electricity that lights dimmed on the premises. He eventually underwent radical curative chest surgery known as plombage in his late teens in Liverpool and was one of the first patients to receive anti-tuberculous therapy following a pioneering 1948 clinical trial of streptomycin.
Despite this challenging start and years of missed education, David was determined to go to university and persevered against the odds (and the Dean telling him he would never be successful) to gain a place at Edinburgh University, where he earned a BSc. His university years were marked with adventure, with David embracing the opportunity to become a very early member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, whistling his friends around Edinburgh and the Highlands in a much-prized A30, and even transporting his car on a plane to Le Bourget to then drive on to Switzerland. His love of being behind the wheel also resulted in him driving an ambulance loaded with toys and donations from Edinburgh University to Vienna across the Alps amidst treacherous blizzards as part of a humanitarian effort to help child refugees caught up in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, mid Cold-War.
Perhaps as a result of his years marked by illness and the insights that afforded him, David joined the National Health Service as one of its first trainees, leading to a long career in hospital administration. He moved to London to work at the Maudsley and later St Thomas’ and Barts Hospitals in the late 1960s, later running a district in East London during a highly challenging period of national strikes, IRA bombings and the three-day week. On one occasion the police demanded he stay on hospital premises after admission of an injured suspected terrorist, resulting in him sleeping overnight in an operating room.
David met future wife Sheila at a party in London and they wed two years later in 1968. They initially lived in London where Sheila was a consultant physician at St George’s Hospital, but their joint love of Scotland saw them move to Glasgow in 1976, with David becoming a senior hospital administrator for the Western District of Glasgow.
David was a technically minded and able man, loving trains, aircraft, watches and engineering, and was the proud owner of several 2CVs over his life. He built a Mirror dinghy and two skeleton clocks, and in the 1980s he and Sheila undertook the restoration of a 200-year-old derelict manse in Bridge of Allan, making it into a family home.
In retirement he remained active intellectually, graduating with a French degree from the University of Stirling aged 70 having attended classes with students in their 20s (and being nominated class representative). He also took up painting and writing classes, penning many a story. He was a wonderful raconteur with an infectious sense of humour, able to deliver a tale or joke with a perfect punchline, and a gifted cartoonist, often delighting friends and family with amusing cards.
Despite his huge talents, David was a humble man. He was a true gentleman who was immensely kind, warm-hearted and generous, and exceptionally loving to his family. He tragically lost his beloved eldest daughter Fiona aged 38 to complications of type 1 diabetes, but is survived by Sheila, daughter Kirsty, son Alistair and three grandchildren.