Obituary: Bill Clement MBE; inspirational and gifted teacher had great love of piping

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Born: 25 March, 1923, in Perth. Died: 17 June, 2012, aged 89.

Bill Clement, MBE, was a virtuoso of piping and Scottish country dancing. He was an inspirational figure who spent his adult life educating young people in the finer points of these pursuits. In his spare time, he was a full-time teacher of technical education.

“Clem”, as he was affectionately known, was born in Perth into a family with a long tradition of piping. He was a sickly child, starting primary school in Perth at seven and a half years old, only to leave for good six years later. For a brief period, he endured a career as a message boy. However, having missed out on a secondary education, Bill, driven by a surge of ambition, enrolled in evening classes in Perth and it was there that his appreciation of education really took root.

On reaching the age of 18, and by now an apprentice joiner, Bill ripped up the letter exempting him from National Service and threw it into the River Tay. And so his army years with the Black Watch began. It was with the Black Watch that Bill perfected his piping skills, ending up as Pipe Major of the 10th Battalion.

In 1944, the army encouraged Bill to assist in the Technical Department workshop at Lockerbie Academy. From this point on, he knew what he wanted to do. In 1948, he undertook his first teaching post at Rockwell Junior Secondary School, a modern school in Tayside where Bill would spend eight fruitful years. It was here that he began to devote many hours to the teaching of Scottish country dancing.

Looking for a change of scene, Bill was excited by an advertisement for a job in Dumfriesshire and so the glorious 55-year connection with Wallace Hall Academy began. Following an early dispute about the quality of breakfasts for boarders and staff at the old Wallace Hall, he earned the title of “the starving school master”.

He soon found that he had a lot of free time to play with and decided to make it known that if anybody wanted to learn the pipes he was happy to teach them.

Bill was invited to join the Atholl Highlanders in October 1947 under Pipe Major Peter Wilkie and continued to serve for another 52 years, latterly as Pipe Sergeant. In 1948, Bill became piper to the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, serving as society chairman from 1996 to 1998. In 1956, with just four boys, Bill formed the Wallace Hall Academy Scottish Country Dancing team. It would go on to perform (and still does, as Thornhill Scottish Country Dancers) with distinction throughout the world.

Bill finally retired from classroom teaching in 1983. But, far from the gentle retirement many might have expected, he continued to teach piping and dancing, passing on his skill and technique to countless young men and women.

Many of Bill’s piping pupils progressed to play with the Buccleuch and Queensberry Caledonia Pipe Band. Bill remained chairman of this organisation for many years.

Aside from a hectic life filled by his interests and hobbies, Bill found love through Scottish country dancing, marrying Atsuko Mikami in 1986. They celebrated their silver anniversary last year.

Recognition of Bill’s amazing achievements in life culminated in two great awards. In July 2008, Bill was made an MBE by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to piping and Scottish country dancing. This was followed by an award from the Japanese consul general bestowed by the Japanese foreign ministry for strengthening ties between Japan and Scotland.

Bill liked challenges, and he faced his greatest challenge last summer when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Rather than giving in to this devastating diagnosis, Bill responded in his own inimitable style. During the very full months that followed, he completed his tune book, A Collection of Bagpipe Tunes, worked on his memoirs, attended a lunch in Edinburgh with the Japanese consul general, visited Japan and, less than a month ago, attended the Atholl Highlanders Jubilee Parade at Blair Castle, staying on to attend the ball at night.

Bill was a gifted teacher displaying a willingness to educate and be educated by those around him. He never sought praise but was quick to give praise and encourage his pupils and peers to be all they could be. Those who underestimated him did so at their peril. He was a force to be reckoned with, standing his ground when he felt it necessary. Many were heard to comment: “He is some man!”

There is no doubt that this man will be sadly missed by all who knew him.

Bill is survived by Atsuko and his sister, Sheila, who lives in Australia.

ANGUS BLAIR