Peter Yeo - an Appreciation
Peter was born in Edinburgh and for the greater part of his life, lived in Craiglockhart in a house where there had been Yeos from 1946. He was educated at Scotus Academy and then Edinburgh University where he started studying Medicine. After a year he moved over to Sociology and on graduating went on to gain a Social Work qualification at Moray House.
While at University, he came under the influence of the charismatic Father Anthony Ross at the Catholic Chaplaincy Centre and from there began his life’s work with largely distressed and hurting people in a number of different settings . He was part of the pioneer Cyrenian Trust, working and living with disadvantaged young men. In the seventies, he worked with Barnados and moved around a bit within Social Work. From 1979 to the early nineties, he was a Senior Social Worker at the YPU, Royal Edinburgh Hospital where he grasped all openings available to him to train in psychotherapeutic ways of working. He went on to the Scottish Child and Family Alliance ( now Children in Scotland) before becoming self employed in 1993. During this freelance period he was involved with a number of different organisations which included ELCA, Borders Counselling on Alcohol, Glasgow Marriage Guidance and its changes of name, Edinburgh University and of course the Institute. He did SIHR. supervision training and availed himself of the further learning opportunities that the Institute afforded.
We knew Peter through the Institute and what he did in that setting but there was much more to him. On 2nd October, at his Requiem Mass, Father Peter Calvert said he was like a house with many rooms not all connecting and that seemed singularly apt - his spectrum of interest was extensive.
He was a man of faith who brought his questioning mind to his beliefs and gave time to retreat and study but who owned that he had been “in the wilderness” at points in his life. His taste in music was eclectic. Sitting beside me at a SAPC showing of the Czech film “Kolya”, he recognised the opening music, saying “ Dvorak’s American Quartet, one of my favourites” and the selection at his Memorial service, reflected his tastes, included Sarah Vaughan’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, Miles Davis “Venus de Milo” and concertos by Vivaldi and Mozart. From conversations with Peter, it was evident that he was well read, covering a wide range of subjects. In recent weeks, his daughter Jenny has had to sort, fill and find homes for over a hundred boxes of books and part of her task was to find the right place for each differing box. He was a regular attendee at the Film House, a bit of an expert on World Cinema and he relished the way-out parts of the Edinburgh Festival. He enjoyed food and drink and cooking; many books on the subject being part of the collection. Peter liked being with people - be it alongside folk on his rambling holidays, hosting his birthday parties, hamming it up at the end of retreat week shows, or debating and discussing with colleagues; affectionate reference has been made to significant conversations on the top of the bus.
His family was a wonderful delight to him; proud of his daughter, Jenny, her medical career, her marriage to Duncan and the arrival of his precious grand children, Angus and Isabel. He was close to his sister, Jennifer and he shared his last weeks of life largely with her caring for him and enabling him to be at home for as long as was possible. He also held his niece, Nina, in high regard, speaking with pride of her Red Cross work with young refugees in London. He belonged to a family who set store by caring for others.
Within the Institute, Peter was an almost constant presence, probably being there most often of all the therapists. He crossed the boundaries of different projects comfortably and was often a willing volunteer for whatever the task was. He was on his feet with questions at most Institute conferences and study days. His kindness and infectious warmth was known to most of us and yet the picture is incomplete if we do not own our exasperation at times. Peter was often late, disorganised and shambolic, mostly a smiling untidy presence. His daughter read me a quote from a letter, she found in his papers, written by someone chasing him up for something of importance ‘.....it’s of no comfort to me that it’s embedded somewhere in your house’. Most of us will not be surprised - we recognise the scenario and remember the well honed ability to deflect such problems; but equally we can recall the generous acceptance of our mistakes and misdemeanors. It was hard to stay annoyed with Peter for very long.
In recent weeks, some of us have had contact with his clients and have heard of their valuing of his work with them and their deep sense of loss. The person he was reached out to them in their seeking and distress, enabling them to share and explore with great benefit. Most spoke of his acceptance and belief in them, conveyed with a light, warm touch.
His death came with a shocking rapidity as many were only coming to understand the gravity of his illness. Yet he seemed calm, peacefully reconciled and enormously brave. It was said at his funeral that he showed us how to die well and those of us who shared something of the short time between his diagnosis and his dying, would say amen to that.
The Institute will be quieter as the echoing, distinctive laugh has gone, some of the caring will have gone - the Counselling Group are taking turns to make their coffee now - some of the lapses in rule keeping will have gone and there may be more order but most will know that we and those Peter worked with, are poorer without him.