Obituary: Gavin Walter Blackie Walker, conservationist, civil engineer and international hockey player

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Born: 16 October, 1936, in Edinburgh. Died: 7 April, 2013, in Paisley, aged 77

GAVIN Walter Blackie Walker was a respected and ingenious civil engineer who lived for 40 years at Gartocharn on Loch Lomondside.

He was also a talented hockey player who was capped for Scotland and played against Wales, South Africa, Belgium and ­England at Twickenham.

Gavin devoted much of his ­career to the conservation of old bridges and buildings, most ­notably in Glasgow and Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

He was a scion of two famous families, the Blackies of The Hill House in Helensburgh, and the Walkers, of Lanarkshire. His father was Sheriff ­Norman Walker, an eminent lawyer whose books are standard texts for students of Scots law, and his mother was Alison Blackie, daughter of Walter Blackie of the publishing company, Blackie & Son (1809-1991).

In 1902, Walter commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to build him a house in Helensburgh. The Hill House is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is considered one of the world’s greatest art nouveau residences.

Although he was born in Edin­burgh, Gavin Walker’s life centred on Glasgow, Loch Lomond and his beloved west coast. He did some restoration work on The Hill House in Helensburgh in the 1970s and it was a place familiar to him since he and his elder brother Hamish lived there in the 1940s.

Gavin attended Larchfield in Helensburgh and Gordonstoun before going on to the University of Glasgow, where he studied civil engineering.

He was mainly self-employed and met his wife, Elizabeth Fothergill, in 1959 while working at Shap on the construction of the M6 near her home town of Ambleside, where the couple were married in 1962.

Throughout his life, he enjoyed sport and outdoor pursuits, his hockey playing even taking him abroad to Poland.

As a student he played for the university team and went on to play for the Western (now Western Wildcats) Hockey Team, but his greatest achievement was to play internationally for Scotland.

He also loved sailing. At various times he owned a Dragon and a six-metre yacht called Dubhsge in which he and his wife won the Ardrishaig Race in their class in 1965.

After three days of unseasonable calm, the couple, arriving at Tobermory alone and shrouded in mist and dark, were extremely surprised when a siren sounded their success.

Shortly after this, he had to make a tough choice – babies or boats.

His first daughter, Kirsty, was born in 1966, and in 1968, Zoe ­arrived.

However, family holidays in the Greek islands enabled him to return to the water, albeit in a miniaturised form, when he took up windsurfing.

He and his daughters would have been among the first to windsurf on Loch Lomond.

He and his family spent more than 40 years living near Gartocharn, while he worked from an office in Glasgow.

In 2006 he and Libby moved to a smaller house in Succoth, Arrochar, where he soon became a valued part of the community. He had been president of the Castle Curling Club since its inception in 1988.

Gavin never retired. Initially he worked on the construction of new roads and bridges, but increasingly he began to specialise in the conservation of historic buildings and structures, in particular bridges.

Two bridges on General Wade’s military road in the Highlands have his name on them – the Corrieyairack Pass bridge, built in 1731, and the later, more elegant Sluggan Bridge near Carrbridge.

His work took him from the sublime to the subliminal.

On the Isle of Bute he helped to shore up the roof and chimneys and create a car park and new entrance for Mount Stuart, the fantastical work of late 19th-century architect William Burgess and the property of the Marquess of Bute, one of Britain’s wealthiest men.

Meanwhile, back in Rothesay, he was pivotal in the restoration of the palatial public urinals.

In the past six years he has worked on Glasgow’s Western Baths, making them accessible to all and most recently on a £2 million project at Bothwell Parish Church.

He is survived by his wife, daughters and granddaughter, Kiri Hawkes.