Former landlord of the Oxford Bar, Edinburgh
Born: 7 May, 1946, in Gateshead.
Died: 29 August, 2008, in Falkirk, aged 62.
JOHN Gates was one of those extraordinary characters who enrich the lives of all who meet them, especially during his 20-year tenure of the Oxford bar in Edinburgh's Young Street.
Gates was actually born on Tyneside, but he invariably kept quiet about his English place of birth. The family moved to Falkirk when he was six and he later attended the local high school before becoming a student at Heriot-Watt University, where he studied quantity surveying. It was at a student dance in 1965 that he met the young Margaret Bishop. It was love at first sight and they had a supremely happy marriage that lasted 40 years.
The couple set up home in Falkirk, with John travelling each day to Edinburgh to work. Football was always a passion and he was in his youth a more than useful player who attracted the notice of scouts from Hibernian. He never played senior football, but he was heavily involved in the game at a lesser level.
Rangers were his team and in his time at the Oxford he was invariably attired in a shirt of Ibrox blue. Taking over the Oxford bar from the curmudgeonly Willie Ross, who had for years instilled something close to a sense of terror in many of his customers, was an act of faith for the Gates team. He never regretted that move and over the years made the Oxford one of the best pubs in the world – and a centre of fascination for tourists.
Many readers of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels know of the Oxford, but fewer realise the forensic pathologist Professor Gates was based on the pub landlord. John played the part to perfection for tourists.
If there had ever been a visitors' book in the Oxford it would have made interesting reading. Sean Connery has been known to pop in for a large gin and tonic. Colin Dexter of Inspector Morse fame was another who drank at the bar.
The place tended to be especially busy during the Edinburgh Book Festival and Hayden Murphy, a regular and freelance literary critic, reckons that no fewer than four Nobel Prize winners enjoyed the hospitality of this famous bar.
However, one of the funniest occasions was when John spotted Martin O'Neill, who was then manager of Celtic, walking on the street outside. O'Neill was persuaded to come into the bar, whereupon the consummate Rangers supporter was rewarded with an autograph.
The rich and the famous no doubt enjoyed their brief forays to the Oxford, but the enduring charm of the establishment was the sense of family and belonging fostered by John and Margaret, as well as their staff among the regulars.
Rank and wealth counted for nothing, and that basic honesty and humanity would no doubt have found favour with Robert Burns.
John retired four years ago, but, sadly, his retirement was all too brief and he had been ill for some months before he died at home in the arms of Margaret. His funeral in Falkirk crematorium was something special, with a huge attendance. A coach was hired from the Oxford and virtually all of the male mourners wore the famous Oxford Bar tie. Sad and emotional as the occasion was, it was also a celebration of a wonderful life and a true gentleman.