Obituary: Bernard Devine, council chief

Born: 30 May, 1946, in East Kilbride. Died: 27 August, 2014, in West Kilbride, aged 68.

Tireless chief executive of North Ayrshire Council well loved by family and staff. Picture: JP
Tireless chief executive of North Ayrshire Council well loved by family and staff. Picture: JP

Tributes have been paid to North Ayrshire Council’s first chief executive Bernard Devine, who died last Wednesday at 68.

Bernard came to the area in 1986 when he was appointed chief executive of the former Cunninghame District Council. He moved from Monklands District Council where he was director of administration, having started his local government career as a solicitor with Airdrie Burgh.

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Bernard, who lived in West Kilbride, was the council’s most senior officer for 18 years, transferring from the old authority to the new North Ayrshire Council in 1995.

It was a challenging period for Scotland’s local authorities which were going through reorganisation for the second time in two decades.

Bernard oversaw a raft of changes that came with the transfer of responsibilities from the old regional councils to the new unitary authorities.

He confidently steered North Ayrshire Council through the reorganisation and into the next millennium.

By the time he retired in 2004, he had become one of Scotland’s longest-serving chief executives.

A former colleague at North Ayrshire Council has cherished memories of a “quiet but caring man”. She said: “His door was always open. You could never disturb him.

“Staff could walk straight into his office and discuss anything that was bothering them. He had a great ability to put people at ease.”

Elma Murray, who has been chief executive at North Ayrshire Council for five years, worked with Bernard in the early years of the authority.

She said: “I was saddened to hear the news that Bernard had died. I have very fond memories of him. He was someone that I was able to learn a lot from.”

Council leader Willie Gibson added: “I know from our longer-serving members of staff that Bernard was a respected figurehead who was always fair with people. My condolences go out to his family during this time of deep sorrow.”

Labour group leader, councillor Peter McNamara, who was elected to Cunninghame District Council in 1988, recalls a “gentleman” who cared passionately about local government.

“Bernard was a quiet, unassuming man but he was very diligent in carrying out his duties as chief executive.

“It was a joy to work with him – and his wife Alice. She was a great supporter of all we did to promote the council and it was sad that they didn’t get long together after his retirement.”

Councillor David O’Neill, who is president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, spoke of Bernard as a “true professional”, adding: “Bernard will be remembered for being the last chief executive of Cunninghame District Council and first chief executive of North Ayrshire Council.”

Bernard was born on 30 May, 1946 in Bellshill, Lanarkshire to Bernard and Celia Devine. He was the youngest of three children with an older sister Maureen, a surgeon, and an older brother John, an economics lecturer. His father was a miner and railwayman but also a musician, who had his own dance band that toured professionally throughout Ireland, and he was also prominent in the Musicians Union. His mother was a school teacher.

He was brought up in an environment where progress through education was a mantra and, relatively unusually for mid-50s Bellshill, the family would regularly go on extended rail holidays to the continent to places such as Paris and Madrid.

He attended Our Lady’s High School in Motherwell, then went to Glasgow University to study an MA in Latin and Greek, which he then followed with an LLB in law. Upon graduation, he began what was to become a long and successful career in local government.

The family moved to East Kilbride in 1976. Following happy years there, working with friends he valued such as Jim Gallagher, he was appointed director of administration and legal services at Monklands Council. In 1986, at the age of 40, he was appointed chief executive of Cunninghame District Council. It was a role he was to enjoy for 18 years prior to his retirement at what was then North Ayrshire Council. At the time of his retirement he was the longest-serving local authority chief executive in Scotland.

He was a happy and devoted family man and a very humble man, although below a quiet exterior was a strong work ethic, a powerful sense of purpose to serve the local community and inherent sense of the need to “do the right thing” by people. He was active in his local church, St Brides, West Kilbride, and recently took up the chairmanship of the West Kilbride Community Association.

The family were struck by tragedy some years ago when elder daughter Anne died suddenly at the age of 29. His wife Alice died in 2006. He is sadly missed by his daughter Susan, sons James and Kenneth, grandchildren Alex and Joseph, as well as his extended family.