John Gray: Agricultural engineer and Livingston character

John Gray, agricultural engineer and early Livingston New Town resident. Born: October 3, 1929, in Duns. Died: 3 September, 2017, in Livingston, age 87.
John Gray has died at the age of 87John Gray has died at the age of 87
John Gray has died at the age of 87

When Livingston was in the process of being built and designated a new town, Borderer John Gray who hailed from Duns, was busy completing his National Service and becoming a ­successful student at an ­agricultural college.

He then took the opportunity to work as an agricultural expert in the field of tractors at BMC in Bathgate , a move which meant transferring his wife Dorothy and their three children to Livingston to a new home in Torridon Walk.

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Eventually he was based at Howden House in Livingston, where his work with tractors proved invaluable and allowed his children the opportunity to enjoy sunny days playing in the fields at harvest time.

John Gray had a reputation which he never bothered to deny, in fact which he loved. He could rival Jack Bennie when it came to being ­careful with his cash. Yet in real life, he was generous when the occasion required, once buying an expensive ­gardening tool to give to a cash-strapped friend who needed to cut down trees.

John and his wife and ­family enjoyed the new town life but sadly she became ill and he willingly gave up his career to become her carer. They moved to a bungalow in ­Livingston Village, which allowed ­easier access for Dorothy’s wheel chair and she became a ­regular visitor to Braid House, a welcoming day care home .

When Dorothy died, John continued his weekly ­visits to Braid House where he befriended many of the guests, ensuring they had a laugh and a good blether and never felt alone. He did this for 17 years, without missing a single week and one of his achievements was to discover and then ensure a talented local ­singer, Robert Garvey, was invited along to give a concert.

The two became good friends and when Garvey was booked for gigs, John would accompany him as his roadie. Not bad for a 70-plus wee chap who everyone now affectionately knew as Wee John, since another of his ­cronies was known as Old John.

As an agricultural engineer now retired, Wee John loved repairing old tools on a ­voluntary basis which were then sent on as part of the Tools for Africa organisation and gratefully received.

He also became a member of the Over Fifties Club in Murieston, where his weekly Tuesday meetings also resulted in enjoying special ­holiday excursions with his fellow members, many of whom were ladies who adored the charming wee Borderer with a twinkle in his eye. There he became best friends with two of the ­members, Wee Alastair and Big Sandy whose work as a painter, musician and cooking ability he truly admired.

His was a world of cronies who would meet at the Livingston Centre for coffee and set the world to rights. Those of us fortunate to be invited into this circle were entertained by great stories of the good old days when someone, who was never named, fired a shotgun from a window at Howden House to ostensibly scare the birds and the ricochet made him fall on the floor much to the mirth of those in the room.

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One of Wee John’s finest tales consisted of when he was doing his National Service in Malaysia, where he developed a hatred for Chinese food.

Many years later, when on holiday with his Walking Group, another of his weekly exploits, their holiday trip took him to China. Not ­surprisingly, the fare at the dinner table was Chinese. Wee John excused himself as the first course was about to be served, disappeared, and then reappeared after the meal was over. Only later did he reveal he had found a McDonald’s down the road and chosen to eat there.

John’s great love of tractors was satisfied when visited the Royal Highland Show, having been given a free ticket. There was no way he was going to pay the entrance fee. “Far too dear,” he commented.

He was in his element admiring the tractors and chatting to stand holders, and only returned the following year when another free ticket was made available. What was not known was that he ­spent just as much on the flowers he gave to the donor of the tickets.

At his 80th birthday, his ­family threw a party where there was the presentation of a fine gold wrist watch and a specially-designed birthday cake which featured a ­tractor driven by a farmer. He was so impressed that he refused to spoil it by cutting even a tiny morsel. It was carefully carried to his car to be taken home and placed in a position of honour in his sitting room where he could admire it. When his family eventually insisted the cake had to be eaten, it was designated never to be actually devoured since the sudden slamming of brakes made it crash to the floor much to his disappointment and the latter amusement of his family.

In John’s day, gentlemen had to be versed in ballroom dancing. So, he took it upon himself to attend weekly tea dances, escorting a fellow widower friend with Alzheimer’s to Whitburn, where they enjoyed the dancing and he saw his friend actually smiling.

John also attended the monthly tea dances at the Howden Park Centre and was pleasantly surprised to see a picture of himself and a lady partner dancing away in the West Lothian Bulletin. Every house in West Lothian received that newspaper. Wee John was famous!

No wallflowers were ever allowed when Wee John was around. Former Livingston Post editor Eddie Anderson remembers John as very much a gentleman who loved the company of ladies and whom everybody liked. Ladies found his jokes amusing and his ability to pay a compliment, a great treat.

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Latterly this active, eternally youthful man became ill and was forced to change his beloved car to a mobility scooter, something his independent spirit abhorred. Rather than being a visitor to Braid House, he became a guest, but was so independent and respected that they insisted on treating him as the popular visitor he had been.

Livingston benefited greatly by having people like John as residents in those early days. His personality brightened many an incomer’s life and the memory of that entertaining and always kind wee gentleman and his signature red pullovers, will never be forgotten.

John Gray is survived by his son Stuart Gray, daughters Isobel Buchanan and Norma O’Hare, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.


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