Posted by Prof. Christopher Harvie on February 20, 2017
Dear Freudies and friends,
Paddy Bort died suddenly in an Edinburgh street on the evening of Friday 17 February, apparently through a heart attack. We had supper on Thursday evening before I left for the airport and a Tuebingen Kompaktseminar and he was full of plans for the year, and beyond. Thus ended a friendship of thirty-six years, and a life devoted to peace, regionalism, socialism, learning and drama. In Edinburgh he famously embodied folk music - as his hero Hamish Henderson had done - but there were different Paddys in different places, who will go on stirring things up.
In Tuebingen's Bert-Brecht-Bau Saturday students were rehearsing in the theatre Producer Paddy helped build out of a large and useless cloakroom. It gave that 'austere-brutalist' building of 1973 a heart. Politics Paddy went on to repeat the act with the similarly-pilloried Scottish parliament, recognising how Enric Miralles' strange creation actually threw people together in ways that made them think differently.
His ANNALS OF THE HOLYROOD PARISH: A Decade of Devolution 2004-2014 (Grace Note 2014) shows how this happpened between 2004-14 and (inter alia) how it got us our Borders Railway back. Paddy published the first pamphlet in June 1999, from Edinburgh University’s International Social Sciences Institute which he had served since 1996. He was with us at a ‘fete champetre’ at Avenel House, Melrose, for David and Judy Steel when it finally opened to Tweedbank in autumn 2015.
As 'Academic Coordinator' he grasped the practical experience Holyrood could provide, partly because, while a student, Stadtrat Paddy was also an SPD councillor in Ilsfeld, the small vineyard-town south of Heilbronn where his father taught. He was influenced by his next-door neighbour the dynamic Lothar Spaeth, pioneer of 'eco-hi-tech' and later Minister-President and even 'the bunch of rascals' who were his conservative opponents but still civic actors. Mutual if wary trust saved their burgh the vast administrative costs we face in Scotland.
Like Patrick Kavanagh Paddy preferred parishes to provinces, because they represented human experience better. The bad news reached Tuebingen via the Phoenix Irish Pub which Barman Paddy had helped restore amid the barges and bridges of Lauffen-am-Neckar.
Freudenstadt started with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung who then owned the Zollernblick in 1991. Its early July discussion weekends now total 26, with 'and-a-half' evenings at Edinburgh's Summerhall.
Above all there was Ireland: that year teaching German at Trinity in 1978-9 when the place began to change; then after 1985 when demographics and new voices from changing Dublin and Belfast reached Tuebingen too. Brechtbau Actor Paddy was Hugh the hedge-schoolteacher in Brian Friel's TRANSLATIONS: perhaps his finest stage role.
Health hadn't dealt the Bort family good cards. Paddy's parents and his younger brother Claus died prematurely and underneath the wit and energy there ran a heroic melancholy, a sense of 'Work, for the night cometh ...'
Something you get from both the Yeats's words and pictures. From 'At Galway Races' we can recover them:
'Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We'll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is ...'