Obituary: John Armstrong, successful businessman and accomplished fly fisherman

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John Armstrong, entrepreneur and fly fisherman. Born: 29 December, 1939, in Glasgow. Died: 21 March, 2017, in Bearsden, aged 77.

JOHN Armstrong was a highly-successful and widely-travelled Scots businessman, entrepreneur and investor who spent most of his career at British Leyland, the Mallinson-Denny timber group, Wickes plc and ultimately at financial consultants Muir Brown plc. Glasgow-born and always known as Jock, he was known for giving away a significant proportion of his investment profits to good causes. He had long stints as a member of the Forth Valley Health Board and as director of Stirling Enterprise Ltd.

Mr Armstrong was also a near-fanatical fly fishermen – trout, sea trout and salmon – from Castle Grant near Grantown-on-Spey to Canada, Alaska, Norway, Iceland and even far-flung Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point in the Americas. After a three-hour battle, he once landed a 44lb salmon on the Kedgwick river in New Brunswick, Canada, one of his proudest achievements.

“Jock’s success as a fisherman stemmed in large part from two of his personal strengths – patience and thoroughness,” Mr Armstrong’s long time friend Tom Bruce-Jones, multi-millionaire chairman of Stella-Jones inc, said in a funeral eulogy. “He was always well prepared before leaving home and in reading the conditions on loch or river, and he had infinite patience without which any aspirant fisherman will fail. The West of Scotland Angling Club and Loch Walton Club were his ‘homes’ for trout fishing with his name on many of their trophies; the world was his ‘home’ for sea trout and salmon.”

As a businessman in 1985, Mr Armstrong was involved in what at the time was the biggest management buyout (MBO) in UK history. He was managing-director for Scotland of the Mallinson-Denny timber company when the management bought itself out of Brooke Bond (part of Unilever) for a then record £80 million before selling to Wickes plc, where Mr Armstrong continued on the board. Head-hunted by his friend Mr Bruce-Jones, he would later become a non-executive director of James Jones Ltd and a director of Stella-Jones International, the leading Canadian firm dealing in pressure-treated wood products including railway ties and utility poles.

He remained a non-executive director of Glasgow-based financial consultants Muir Brown plc until his death. Other companies he was involved with included Firstbase Timber, Timber Frameworks and Integral Arm.

John Frederick Cunningham Armstrong was born in Glasgow on December 29, 1939, living first in Sandyford Place and later in Redlands Terrace, Kelvindale, just off the Great Western Road.

During the war, he was evacuated to Gargunnock, outside Stirling, where his father ran a hospital for war evacuees on the Buchanan estate around Drymen. He went to primary school in St Andrews before attending Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, leaving after his O-Levels to become a trainee mechanical engineer on Clydeside.

In 1963, he completed a five-year training apprenticeship with Albion Motors in Glasgow, qualifying as a mechanical engineer within the Leyland group, which quickly recognised that his skills went beyond engineering and that he was a natural salesman and businessman. He would spend many years with British ­Leyland, culminating as managing director for East Africa, before foreign competition gave British car workers and management a much-needed wake-up call.

As a fisherman, Mr Armstrong recalled once fishing with his big brother Bill at the Manse Pool on the Spey at Castle Grant when he heard a huge splash and turned to look for a large fish. All he saw was his brother’s floppy hat floating on the surface. Bill had stepped back off the high bank into the deep pool but soon surfaced unscathed to Jock’s relief and, it must be said, unbridled mirth.

Mr Armstrong’s pioneering spirit was evident during his work in Kenya. He once persuaded the pilot of the company plane to fly him and his wife Evie high over Mount Kilimanjaro. So high, in fact, that both Jock and Evie passed out from lack of oxygen but fortunately the pilot remained conscious.

Jock Armstrong passed away at his home in Bearsden, two years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a fact that he accepted with the same positive outlook with which he had lived his healthy life.

He is survived by his wife Evie (née McKell, originally from Bearsden), their sons Crawford and Jim, daughter Karen, grandchildren Jodie, Cameron, Tallulah, Oscar, Joss, Martha and Libby, and his elder brother Bill.

PHIL DAVISON