Missionary and explorer George Patterson dies at 93

George Patterson received the Light of Truth award from the people of Tibet
George Patterson received the Light of Truth award from the people of Tibet

Not a lot of people can be said to have tried to help the Dalai Lama escape the clutches of communist China and then played a part in saving guitar legend Eric Clapton’s life.

Falkirk-born George Patterson, who sadly died on December 28, did both during his 93 years and a whole lot more in a life which saw him travel to the Far East to serve as a missionary, explorer, author, journalist and broadcaster.

Explorer George Patterson during his time in Tibet

Explorer George Patterson during his time in Tibet

It was his contribution to furthering the public understanding of Tibet and its culture which saw him earn the Light of Truth award in 2011, joining previous recipients Desmond Tutu, Martin Scorsese and Richard Gere.

Back in the early 1950s, with communist forces set to invade, George was asked by the Dalai Lama’s family to arrange for the spiritual leader’s escape from Tibet.

The operation was temporarily aborted until 1959, when the Dalai Lama eventually fled the country to safety.

George also had a positive effect on guitar god Eric Clapton in the mid 1970s when the rock star, who was addicted to heroin, sought out George’s wife Meg and the electro-acupuncture technique she had developed to wean addicts off the drug.

Clapton actually ended up moving in with the couple for a time and, through their encouragement and help, eventually kicked the habit.

George may have spent his last few years in Auchlochan Care Home, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, but much of his life took place half the world away from Scotland and his Falkirk roots.

Born in 1920, he spent his early childhood in Laurieston, leaving Falkirk High School at the age of 13 to study engineering at Falkirk Technical School. During World War II he worked as an engineer in the weapons department of the Carron Engineering Company.

At the end of the war he left engineering to study at the Missionary School of Medicine in London before travelling to China and Tibet in 1946.

He settled in the Tibetan border town of Kangting, living among the militant tribal Khambas, learning their culture and language and also dispensing medical treatment.

With the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet imminent in 1950, and his medical supplies depleted, George travelled in mid-winter across Tibet by a previously unexplored route in order to alert the governments of India, Britain and the USA about the invasion and to seek help for the Khambas.

Unable to return to Tibet because of the Chinese occupation he remained on the Indian-Tibetan border towns of Kalimpong and Darjeeling from 1950 to 1961, where he wrote about the people of the Himalayas and Central Asia.

It was at this time George’s career as a writer and broadcaster began to take off - he wrote articles for the Statesman of Calcutta, the British Guardian, Daily Telegraph and the Observer and contributed to international newspapers and journals such as the New York Times, Spectator, China Quarterly, Readers Digest, New Republic and Nation.

In the early 1960s he returned to Britain and had his own BBC radio programme ‘Asian Affairs in the British Press’ and participated in other programmes as a commentator and book reviewer, working for the Canadian, New Zealand and Australian Broadcasting Corporations.

From 1964 to 1973 he was based in Hong Kong and travelling throughout Asia, writing and broadcasting about Asian affairs for regional and international media, working in both radio and television, scriptwriting and presenting current affairs programmes.

When his wife Dr Meg Patterson MBE, MBChB, FRCSE developed a revolutionary new treatment for drug addiction - neuro electric therapy - they returned to London to permit her to develop the treatment.

During their lifetime George and Meg, who died in 2002, wrote around 20 books, including ‘Patterson of Tibet and ‘Hooked: A Revolutionary Approach For Drug Treatment’.