Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Alastair Heron

1915 – 2009

Alastair Heron was a Scottish Quaker and psychologist,  known for his work on physical, physiological and psychological changes with age. He edited the controversial 1963 publication, Towards a Quaker View of Sex.

Educated first in Scotland and then in Canada, Heron returned to Britain with his father in 1934 by working his passage as a coal trimmer on a cargo boat. He served briefly a cadet in the army, but was discharged on medical grounds. He then took work as an accountancy clerk and studied psychology at a ‘weekend university.’ He met his wife Margaret through the Moral Rearmament movement of the 1930s, which sought to avoid war by enabling individuals to experience a moral and spiritual awakening.

Heron first encountered Quakers as a registered Conscientious Objector during the Second World War, when he served as a civilian ambulance driver during the London Blitz. He joined the Society in 1942 and trained with Friends’ Relief Service (FRS). He served first in Italy with the Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees (IGCR) in 1945, and then in Germany, and saw for himself the devastating impact of war. For the most part, he enjoyed the challenge, though he did admit to finding the work in northern Italy at times unsatisfying and depressing, mainly because there were no resources of food, clothing or money to relieve the conditions of those people I came across He wrote that he found himself praying a grumpy prayer but then had a peak experience, after which he no longer felt alone, helpless and depressed.

Following the war, he studied psychology at London and Manchester University, and then worked for the Medical Research Council.

Heron’s research topics as a psychologist included education for parenthood and employment of the disabled. Some of his most influential work was done in the 1960s as Director of the Medical Research Council, when he studied Occupational Aspects of Ageing, conducting detailed investigations of physical, physiological and psychological changes with age.

In 1963, he served as editor of the controversial publication, of Towards a Quaker View of Sex, a radical look at sexual morality that defined sin as actions that involve the exploitation of the other person and chastity as the total absence of exploitation.

Between 1970 and 1974, he was Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Melbourne University, Australia. While there, he edited the Quaker journal, the Australian Friend, from 1972 to 1974.

The Australian Psychological Society awards the Alastair Heron prize for clinical psychologists working in the field of ageing in his honour.

After retiring as an academic, he settled in Yorkshire where he wrote a number of Quaker publications. One of the first of these was Caring, Conviction, Commitment: dilemmas of Quaker membership today, published in 1992. This resulted from the survey he carried out to learn at first-hand about the experiences of new attenders at a Quaker Meeting and sought to discover what brought them into membership.

In 1994, he wrote Quaker Speak: first aid for newcomers, a dictionary of Quaker jargon.
In 1996, he published Quakers in Britain; a century of change, to mark the centenary of the Manchester Conference which opened the way for the 'liberal stage' of British Quakerism.
His autobiography, Only one life - a Quaker's voyage was published in 1998

Heron died in Sheffield in 2009, aged 93.

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Further Reading and Credits

external links
Further reading
  • Autobiography Only One Life: a Quaker’s voyage; Curlew Productions, Scotland, 1998
  • Towards a Quaker View of Sex, ed. Alastair Heron; Friends Home Service Committee,1963
  • Quaker Speak: first aid for newcomers; Quaker Outreach Yorkshire; 1994 fourth reprint 2008
  • Caring, Conviction, Commitment: Dilemmas of Quaker membership today; Quaker Home Service, 1992
  • Charity, Liberty, Unity: A Quaker Search for Essentials; The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia Incorporated; 1988
  • The British Quakers, 1647 - 1997: Highlights of Their History, Curlew Productions, 1997

Image reproduced from InPsych 2009, Australian Psychological Society.