Founder of Samaritans dies, aged 95

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LONDON, Nov 8 (Reuters) Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans helpline, has died peacefully at the age of 95, his family said today.

Prince Charles, patron of the charity, said Varah was an ''outstanding humanitarian and a great Briton.'' ''(He) was an utterly remarkable man who founded an organisation which has saved the lives of countless people since 1953,'' the prince added.

Varah founded the Samaritans as an emergency service for people considering suicide at a time when it was illegal to take one's own life and sex education was virtually non-existent.

He had conducted his first funeral as young curate 18 years previously, for a 14-year-old girl who thought she had venereal disease but in fact was starting menstruation.

The experience led Varah to vow to devote himself to help others overcome the ignorance and isolation that had led to the girl's death.

When he became rector at St Stephen Walbrook Church in London in 1953 he advertised for people to help and was inundated with offers of support.

He opened a drop-in centre where emotionally isolated and distressed people could find a friendly ear, and the Samaritans was born.

Today the Samaritans has over 200 branches across Britain and Ireland, and received more than 5 million contacts by phone, email, letter and face-to-face in 2006.

Reuters MP VP0310

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