The Sun - December 31, 2008
Heave-ho ... George may have retired but he still rows out at Hogmanay to save New Year's lonely souls
SUICIDE is not a word that rests easy with riverman George Parsonage.
And Hogmanay is traditionally a time of year where old ghosts haunt their loved ones.
A heady mix of alcohol, broken hearts, despair and hopelessness are magnified as a new year beckons.And for some, there seems no point in soldiering on into yet another year of misery and sorrow.
This Ne’erday will find its own victims.
Tonight, George Parsonage will leave his family home in Glasgow Green, walk across to the riverbank, and sail silently down the Clyde as the bells toll in the New Year.
It’s the same pattern he’s followed for the past 50 years.
George, 65, Glasgow’s ‘riverman’, has dragged more than 800 bodies from the murky waters of the Clyde, and rescued around 1,500 souls.
He does it on behalf of the Glasgow Humane Society, based in an old stone house on the banks of the Clyde at Glasgow Green.
Before George, it was his father Ben who trawled the depths of a watery grave.
Now George leaves his duties to the Fire Service, but is usually around ‘just in case’.
He said: “I’m not on-call now.
Saviour ... Riverman George
“I was ‘retired’ three years ago, but this work is a part of me.
“I’ve brought in many New Years helping police and medics to get those we’ve rescued into the back of ambulances and off to either the hospital or the morgue.
“I’ve have been called out just after midnight for drunken revellers thinking that a seal was a person swimming in the river.
“I have searched for the body of a young man swept away when all he had been doing was showing off to his girl friend by walking along the parapet of a bridge.
“Everyone has to be extremely careful at this time.”
Keeping an eye out for potential suicide victims is second nature for George.
He said: “During the past week, I’ve spoken to people sitting near the river or standing on a bridge, obviously depressed.
“One young girl had fallen out with her boyfriend at a Christmas party, and she could see no further.
And another was just sadly reminiscing about a loved one that he had lost in the river.”
New Year’s Eve is always a poignant time in the riverman’s life.
George said: “My father and now myself always go out in the boat over midnight.
“I leave about 11.15pm and row and drift, listening to the bells playing tunes from the Tron Steeple.
“But I am keeping a close eye on our lonely stretch of water for anyone who shows signs of over-indulgence or sadness.
“Hopefully this year all will be quiet and I’ll come back home after the bells and first-foot the family.” The father-and-son tradition is not easily broken.
George’s father Ben handed over the oars of the Glasgow Humane Society to George in 1979 on his death.
By that time, George had worked with his dad for so many years that he knew the river like the back of his hand.
George said: “Days later, a call came through that there was someone in the water. Instinctively I got in the boat and went to find them.”
Now he’s catching up on lost time with his doctor wife Stephanie, 48, and sons Ben, 12, and Christopher, 10.
But in this changing world, he’s anxious that the Humane Society continues to prosper — and he’ll carry on its vital work on the Clyde.
He added: “Tonight I’ll be out on the river, just like every Hogmanay.”
article by email@example.com
Insert in article
Each Dive’s a cry for help
There are times when those George has rescued return in the following few days still determined to end their lives.
But George believes they are still making a cry for help. He said “I call them regrettable accidents”
“Everyone screams for help and tries to save themselves the minute they hit the water. It’s instinctive.
Some weigh themselves down with stones, tie their boot laces together and their hands behind their back.
But they’ll still thrash around trying to survive”.
E mail comment posted by City-Boy:
George it makes me proud to be Glaswegian that an organisation like this still continues in Glasgow to this day, over 218 years since its "official" establishment.
Glasgow should be proud of what is fore fathers set up for the city and its future fathers should look after it and cherish its likes.