Obituary. Scotsman Newspaper. 29 October 2004. (http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1249172004 )
Assistant keeper of the records of Scotland and campaigner for gay rights
Born: 21 May, 1931, in Braemar.
CECIL Sinclair touched the lives of many people in Scotland. As a professional archivist he was a much-respected figure in the Scottish Record Office (SRO) where his attention to detail and ability to conserve and interpret manuscripts earned him the esteem of his colleagues. In the late Sixties, Sinclair was a pioneering influence in setting up and administering the Scottish Minorities Group, which started as a counselling service but expanded rapidly into the Gay Centre in Broughton Street. Sinclair was instrumental in making that move possible and worked tirelessly for the organisation all his life. Lastly, he was a devoted (and permanently enthusiastic) member of "The Grads" - the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group. Apart from serving for many years on their committee and acting twice as their president he appeared regularly with them from 1961 and was in both their 40th and 50th anniversary productions.
Cecil James Herbert Sinclair was born in Braemar where his mother had lived all her life (his father was from Orkney). He attended McLaren High School, Callander and then went to Edinburgh University in the early Fifties and qualified with history and law degrees.
He arrived at the Scottish Record Office, now the National Archives of Scotland, in 1954 still wearing his RAF uniform from National Service. He was to remain a devoted and inspiring member of SRO until he retired in 1991. He combined an incisive and agile mind with a keen and inquisitive intellect. Sinclair was at times secretary to the Advisory Council and in charge of the Search Office in West Register House (the old St George’s Parish Church) in Charlotte Square.
Sinclair was to work extensively on cataloguing and indexing complex estate papers: including the ancient documents of the Mar and Kellie families. He became particularly well versed in matters relating to the register of sasines (possession of feudal property) and in the early Sixties produced a guide for SRO staff. Always a calm and patient man he was keen to help any private individuals who came to the SRO on a family matter.
He is fondly remembered among the SRO staff for his enthusiasm and wide knowledge of historic writings, maps and plans. His particular speciality was palaeology (ancient writing) and he became an acknowledged expert in the field. Peter Anderson the current deputy keeper received much of his early training from Sinclair. "As indeed did the present keeper (George MacKenzie). We both greatly benefited from Cecil’s scholarship and deep knowledge of Scottish history. His indexing work still stands in the SRO today. He was something of a perfectionist and always strove for the highest standards in whatever he was doing," Mr Anderson said.
Following his retirement, he busied himself with archival matters and wrote Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors, Tracing Scottish Local History and (in 2000) an entertaining history of the SRO entitled (doubtless with his tongue firmly in his cheek) Jock Tamson’s Bairns.
But Sinclair had two other life-long passions. As early as 1971 (when "coming out" for a civil servant was a brave move) he joined the Scottish Minorities Group (now Outreach) and worked with great commitment and energy to broaden its scope. In 1974, he was involved in setting up the Edinburgh Befrienders counselling service, which still exists.
The group was sparsely funded (they operated from members’ homes) but moved to the Gay Centre, in Broughton Street, thanks to an anonymous interest-free loan. It can now be revealed that that generous individual was Sinclair himself. The loan was paid back over many years from fundraising events. When the centre faced some problems with difficult neighbours, Sinclair once again (anonymously) solved the situation. He persuaded the tenants to move to a flat he bought for them at a low rent and this allowed the group to expand into the rooms at the back of the building.
Sinclair’s kindly and efficient manner was a major asset to the centre and he played a prominent part in the BBC’s 1975 Open Doors programme about homosexuality in Scotland. In June this year, he was on BBC Radio Scotland talking about the hazards, pressures and dangers of being gay in Scotland before the law was reformed.
In 1961, Sinclair joined The Grads. It has been suggested that he was a relation of the actor Alistair Sim. Certainly he was a keen actor and loved being involved in all the shows the group put on. His resounding success came in 1965 when his production of Getting and Spending won the National Amateur Drama Award. But Sinclair was always busying himself with all the group’s activities - from the panto to their annual production during the Edinburgh Festival.
Wendy Mathison is a member of the group and remembers Sinclair’s "infectious enthusiasm".
"He was always there with a kind word and constructive advice - a great supporter of everything we did. Cecil was keen to get away from the standard repertoire and encouraged us to do new plays. Despite being very ill and frail he took a cameo part in our 50th anniversary play and enjoyed himself hugely. He loved the theatre - read plays avidly and always took his holidays at Festival time and went to the theatre solidly for three weeks," she said.
Sinclair was a much loved and respected figure in his professional life, on stage at the Adam House and at the Gay Centre in Broughton Street. He had a commitment and sparkle about him which is reflected in a forward he wrote for the Grad’s 50th anniversary. Recalling his first visit in 1961, Sinclair said: "The director greeted me, ‘Great! Another man!’ and put me in the chorus although I could not sing ... but I enjoyed The Grad’s democracy and camaraderie."
• The service is at Mortonhall Crematorium on Wednesday 3 November at 11am.
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1249172004
Last updated: 28-Oct-04 00:05 BST
ScotsGay October 2004 CECIL SINCLAIR 1931-2004 It is with deep regret that we have to announce the passing of one of the major figures in the Scottish gay rights movement of the crucial campaigning 1970's. Cecil Sinclair, a Braemar man (born 21st May 1931), joined the Scottish Minorities Group (later the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group and now Outright Scotland) in 1971 not long after its formation in 1969. Then an archivist with the Scottish Record Office, Cecil became active in SMG and was soon to become the first convenor of the newly formed Edinburgh Branch of SMG, a post he stayed in for several years. In early 1974 he was instrumental along with a handful of others in starting and working with the telephone-based SMG Edinburgh Befrienders counselling service, later to became the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard which continues to this day. Just last month, he attended the 30th anniversary celebrations for this service in the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh. Initially the Befrienders operated out of the private homes of two dedicated members but later moved to a room at the back of the Gay Centre at 60 Broughton Street. The premises had been a former hairdressers shop which was bought by SMG Edinburgh in late 1974 with the help of an interest free loan from a very generous anonymous patron; the money raised from the very successful gay discos which SMG Edinburgh ran over the next two years helped to repay the loan. Though a closely guarded secret at the time, it can now be revealed that the anonymous patron was Cecil himself. In purchasing the centre, SMG Edinburgh also acquired some not so friendly tenants who occupied the ground floor and basement at the rear of the premises and who refused to move out. Once again, Cecil came to the rescue by buying a flat and persuading the tenants to move there at the same low rent they had been paying, thus making available the rooms at the rear of the centre for committee meetings and for the Befrienders. In 1975 Cecil played a prominent role in the BBC Open Doors TV programme about the Scottish Minorities Group in which he explained the work of the Befrienders. In June of this year he was to be heard again in two half hour BBC Radio Scotland programmes entitled Scotland The Gay, talking about gay life back in the years leading up to law reform. A keen thespian, Cecil was an active member of the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group with which he produced and acted in amateur productions over many years. Towards the end of his working years, Cecil suffered badly from asthma, possibly brought on by the paper dust from the old documents he worked with in his profession. Nevertheless, he continued with his amateur theatrical activities and, after retiring, he authored two books for the Scottish Record Office, Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors and Tracing Scottish Local History published by HMSO. He continued, of course, to take an interest in gay rights, though he was happy to see the torch passed to the next generation. Cecil died at home in Edinburgh on 20th Oct 2004 from a heart attack, brought on by asthma related bronchopneumonia. He will be very much missed by his many friends and acquaintances.
Scotland has said a final farewell to one of its early activists for
lesbigay equality, Cecil Sinclair, who died in late October of heart and lung
problems at the age of 73. A career civil servant, Sinclair joined the Scottish
Minorities Group in 1971, when homosexual acts were still criminal offenses. SMG
is now known as OutRight Scotland. In 1974 Sinclair helped organize the
group's Edinburgh Befrienders telephone help line service, now known as the
Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, and anonymously provided the money that made
the purchase of its site possible. Sinclair also spoke about both groups on
national radio and television.