Obituary: Archie Gilchrist, businessman who held an astonishing number of prestigious board posts

Archie Gilchrist
Archie Gilchrist
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Archie Gilchrist, businessman. Born: 17 December 1929. Died: 4 August 2018, aged 88.

Archie Gilchrist, who has died aged 88, made a highly valuable and important ­contribution to many areas of life in Scotland and elsewhere.

Archie Gilchrist

Archie Gilchrist

A leading figure in shipbuilding, he held several prestigious positions, including director of Clyde-based ­Barclay Curle and parent company Swan Hunter, managing director and latterly chairman of Govan Shipbuilders and managing director of Vosper Shipbuilders in Singapore.

He was also managing director of Brown Brothers in ­Edinburgh, which made ships’ stabilisers and steering gear. In addition he held a number of non executive directorships –with Glasgow construction company Lilley’s, Edinburgh architects RMJM, Scottish Friendly Assurance Society and Friends’ Provident, and was president of the Scottish Engineering Employers’ Association and chair of the Engineering Employers’ Federation Conference Committee.

A part-time member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board and of Caledonian Macbrayne’s Board, he also found time to be a member of the BBC’s Broadcasting Council for Scotland, vice chairman of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and to be involved in several public service bodies.

To all of these activities he brought integrity, sound judgement, leadership and an ability to engage purposefully with people from across the social strata, which won him respect and affection. A ­physically imposing individual, he was also a big character.

Born in Glasgow to James and Gwen, he was the eldest of three sons, Peter and Iain the others. His father was a Scottish rugby internationalist out of Glasgow Accies and chairman of Barclay Curle. Mr Gilchrist attended Cargilfield Prep School in Edinburgh before going on to Loretto School, demonstrating early evidence of his leadership qualities by being head boy at both.

Thereafter he went to Pembroke College at Cambridge University to study engineering and played a lot of rugby, being unfortunate not to gain a Blue. National Service with the Royal Scots Greys in ­Germany then intervened followed by a short period at sea as an engineering officer with the British India shipping line before undertaking an engineering apprenticeship with Alexander Stephens and Company at their Linthouse yard. In 1954 he joined Barclay Curle, the fourth generation of his family to do so and progressed to being director and general manager.

Ten years later, having anticipated difficulties in the industry on the Clyde, he joined Brown Brothers and moved with his family to Barnton, Edinburgh, where they remained.

While on a business trip to London in the early 1970s, he saw Glasgow shipyard workers marching on Downing Street. When he learned this concerned the collapse of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, he appreciated the huge potential economic and social ­consequences for Glasgow.

A sense of public duty led to his involvement in a bid to preserve the industry and he was appointed managing director of Govan Shipbuilders which took over three of the UCS yards. Mr Gilchrist was instrumental in modernising practices, obtained ­government funding and no industrial ­disputes took place during his eight year tenure.

Despite a 30 per cent increase in productivity, profitability was elusive due to market problems and in 1979 while at a meeting in London, he was unceremoniously told he had been replaced. It was a shabby and shameful way for him to be treated, which appalled the workforce with whom he had established good relations.

After that he moved to ­Singapore where he enjoyed a successful six years at the helm of Vosper. While there he was vice-chairman of the British Business Association of Singapore and council member of the Employers’ Federation. On his return here in 1986, his services were much in demand. He accepted a number of non executive director appointments and was awarded an OBE for services to Scotland, although many thought he merited higher honour.

In 1958, at Paisley Abbey, he married Jeanette Greenlees, the couple having met the previous year at a party in Milngavie. They enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage for 60 years and had three children, Jamie, Mungo and Arabella. He was ‘always there’ for his family for whom he provided unconditional love and support. Although an accomplished high achiever, he was self-deprecating and modest with an infectious sense of fun and humour, which set the tone for a happy household.

A keen sportsman, he enjoyed internationals at Murrayfield, indoor bowling, shooting, fishing, and golf at Bruntsfield and Muirfield where he had been a member since 1968. Walking safaris in Africa, particularly Zimbabwe where his brother Peter had settled, were another favourite activity. He served on the governing bodies of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs, Glasgow Polytechnic College and the Council for National Academic Awards. He chaired the Council of St. Leonard’s School, St. Andrews and the governors of Cargilfield.

Other appointments included committee membership of the Royal Society for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland and the Drake Music Project, to further opportunities for disabled children play musical instruments. He was an elder of Cramond Kirk for 50 years and sang in the choir. He derived much satisfaction from membership of the BBC Broadcasting Council, where he flagged up London’s need to react to impending devolution and dispensed sound advice on various issues while being a much respected and appreciated colleague.

Music was a great passion. He was a founding board member of Scottish Opera in the early 1960s and between 1989 and 94 was vice chair of the RSNO. He and his wife were regular concert attenders and spent music holidays in Europe.

As stated at his memorial service, “he was a great Scot”. He is survived by his wife, children and six grandchildren.