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Archbishop in Aberdeen: Former lord provost shares memories of Desmond Tutu visit

Then-Lord Provost John Reynolds with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2005.
Then-Lord Provost John Reynolds with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2005.

A former lord provost has spoken about the day he spent discussing faith and politics with Archbishop Desmond Tutu while driving him to a conference in Aberdeen.

The South African anti-apartheid leader died on Boxing Day aged 90, leading to an outpouring of tributes from around the world – with many describing him as one of the great moral voices of recent history.

But Councillor John Reynolds had a more intimate encounter than most, getting the opportunity to chat one-on-one ahead of the 2005 Commonwealth Local Government Conference.

Mr Reynolds, who served as lord provost between 2004 and 2007, picked up Archbishop Tutu at Aberdeen Airport and drove him to the city’s Exhibition and Conference Centre, where the event was being held.

‘Truly an honour’

While he did the same for several other prime ministers of small island groups, it was the first Black archbishop of Cape Town he was most looking forward to meeting, due to his strong Christian faith.

He said: “It was a fantastic conference, the number of people I met was totally unreal. All these leaders, way above my pay grade, and I’m there greeting them as lord provost. It was truly an honour.

“But I got more out of my Christian faith from the point of view of meeting Desmond Tutu, and that side of it was absolutely wonderful.”

The pair predominantly spoke about faith, Mr Reynolds said, and the ways in which it can work to enhance politics.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivering his keynote speech at the Commonwealth Local Government Forum conference in Aberdeen on March 17, 2005. Picture by Maurice McDonald/PA.

He added: “We were talking about my journey of faith, his journey of faith, he was talking about all the obstacles that were there when they had apartheid and how they managed to overcome it.

“He was very jolly about it – whereas generally speaking people would hold grudges, he didn’t see it that way.

“He said it was part of the history, you move on and we’re now in a different era altogether. He was very, very positive about where South Africa was going and everything that was happening in South Africa.”

Cleric’s first trip to Granite City

Perhaps surprisingly, the 2005 visit was not Archbishop Tutu’s first to Aberdeen.

He had previously come to the city in 1984 to accept an honorary doctorate in Divinity from Aberdeen University, a trip delayed for four years as the South African government repeatedly denied him permission to travel.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, with his wife Leah, chats to graduates at Marischal College, after becoming an honorary Doctor of Divinity in the summer of 1984.

The honour from the university came in the same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work opposing the racist apartheid system in his home country.

Mr Reynolds, who plans to step down as a councillor at the election next year, said he gifted Archbishop Tutu a copy of a Biblical interpretation named The Message.

He added that the cleric seemed to be impressed with the city despite the spring weather, saying: “He thought it was beautiful coming in.

“A lot cooler than in South Africa – he said, ‘Oh, it’s a little cooler here.’ He could have said it’s bloody freezing, but he didn’t, which again was the gentleman coming out in him.”

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