Obituary: James McCargow, former secretary to the court and registrar of Glasgow University
Born: 19 July, 1920, in Dennistoun, Glasgow. Died: 7 September, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 92.
JAMES McCargow spent most of his career in the administration of Glasgow University, a career which culmi-nated in his tenure of the post of Registrar and Secretary to the Court (the university’s governing body). An administrator of exceptional talent, he brought to this post not only his formidable intelligence, but also considerable diplomatic and political skills.
Born on 19 July, 1920, he was the youngest and last surviving of three brothers. Their father was the foreman and manager of a small iron-foundry in Glasgow’s east end. The foundry knew boom times during the First World War, but collapsed in the post-war slump.
In 1924, at the age of 50, their father found himself out of work. Thereafter his employment was intermittent and, in the early Thirties, non-existent. The family knew hard times.
At school, James and his brothers were bright pupils, but their ambitions were understandably modest. The extent of their hopes was to avoid unemployment, which they knew as a scourge. They hoped to find places in local government, or in the lower reaches of the civil service.
This was achieved by George, the eldest, who left school early to take up a clerkship with the Corporation of Glasgow. He could have continued in full-time education, but was only too aware the family badly needed the wage he could earn.
It was with George’s help, therefore, that James, and his twin brother Andrew, were able to stay on at school and obtain a Leaving Certificate.
At that point, their headmaster, who was ambitious for them, persuaded their father that they should be thinking of a university degree. And so it was to be. James went to Glasgow University where he was to achieve a first-class honours degree in French and German.
The Second World War broke out when he was still a student, but he was granted an exemption from army service until he completed his studies. In 1941, he was appointed to the Sudan Defence Force, where he rose to the rank of major (or “bimbashi”, as it was locally known).
After the war, he remained in the Sudan, where his linguistic abilities soon saw him passing the required examinations in Arabic and becoming assistant district commissioner in the colonial Sudan Government Service.
Combining, as it did, the roles of administrator, politician, and judge, this post was to give him experience that would prove invaluable in his future career.
In 1946, he used his first home leave to renew his courtship of Ann Dunlop, whom he had known throughout their student days at Glasgow. They married on his next leave in 1947, and Ann spent the following two years with him in the Sudan, at first in the southerly town of Juba, and then in Wad Medani, the capital of Blue Nile Province. They left in 1949, with Sudan then facing an uncertain future.
On their return to Scotland, James taught briefly at Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow before deciding that teaching was not for him. Later in life – with perhaps undue modesty – he would maintain that if he had enjoyed some advancement in his worldly career, it was largely owing to circumstances outwith his control. However, there can be no denying that good luck did play its part at that time in his life. Abandoning a secure – if uncongenial – job in teaching, he applied for a purely temporary post at Glasgow University, which was looking for someone to help organise its 500th anniversary celebrations in 1951.
Not surprisingly, his abilities were quickly recognised, so that when his temporary assignment came to an end, he was invited to join the permanent staff of the university.
So began his career in university administration, which saw him rise through the ranks to become Secretary to the Court and Registrar of the university in 1974. The post was extremely wide-ranging in its responsibilities and challenging in its demands. Indeed, such was the breadth of its remit, the roles of Secretary and Registrar were eventually separated into two posts, just two years before his retirement in 1985.
At home, James excelled in DIY, never happier than when cleaning windows, clearing gutters, constructing garden fences, mixing cement, laying slabs, gardening, or carrying out repairs. Unusually for a man in the 1960s and 1970s, he did his share of the shopping, and was often seen by colleagues in Byres Road with a shopping basket, returning to his office with the best ham from Healeys or the cheapest and ripest bananas he could find.
For his two young daughters, Jill and Ann, he was the ideal father – he told bedtime stories (“Sugar and Spice” thrillers), played his guitar (his favourite songs being Lazy-Bones and Miss Otis Regrets), taught them to swim, play tennis, draw and paint – and generally encouraged them in their studies.
After his retirement, James and wife Ann moved to Edinburgh. There, they enjoyed visits from their children and grandchildren, holidays, birthday celebrations and family Christmas dinners.
Current affairs and crossword puzzles were two of his main retirement interests – he was a master of both, and avidly followed political and economic developments until just a couple of months before his death.
James died on Friday, 7 September, 2012. He had been admitted to hospital on 23 June following a stroke. He moved into Marian House care home – where wife Ann was already a resident – on 14 August 2012, and there died peacefully following another stroke.
He is survived by wife Ann, his daughters Jill and Ann, and his grandchildren Helen and Ian.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West