Obituary: Bill McKimmie, architect

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Born: 24 September, 1940 in Aberdeen. Died: 9 November, 2014 in Edinburgh, aged 74

Bill McKimmie was a man whose twin passions for his birthplace and his profession helped to shape the modern cityscape of his home town.

A devoted Aberdonian, he was also a highly-respected architect, leading the design teams for significant new developments including the £60 million Bon Accord retail centre and several oil company headquarters – always determined to do the very best for the city that he loved, lived and worked in all his life.

That ethos was evident not only throughout his professional career but in his civic service to the Burgesses of Guild of Aberdeen, of which he was Dean for four years.

Aberdonian through and through, he was born in the city’s Hilton area just before his father William, a bus conductor, went off to fight in the Second World War. He would not see him for another five years and later recalled the stranger who hugged him at the railway station on his return from serving in Burma.

Educated at Woodside Primary and Hilton Academy, he completed his schooling on a scholarship to the former Aberdeen Academy, in the city’s Schoolhill, now also a shopping centre.

Having excelled as a schoolboy at a number of sports including cricket, rugby and squash, he had originally planned to become a physical education teacher but changed his mind and pursued a career in architecture instead.

He studied at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Aberdeen from 1958, graduating in 1964, the same year he married his wife Lesley, a fellow architecture student.

He joined the firm of Jenkins and Marr, where he would spend the rest of his working life, in 1965, and became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects the following year. With the exception of a nine-month spell in Wick, where the firm had a branch office, he was based in his home city, working on a range of new projects and renovations.

The huge Bon Accord Centre was a long and protracted project, taking many years to come to fruition. McKimmie provided the principal liaison between the city council and the developers, Bredero, and the centre finally opened in 1990. Following its success Jenkins and Marr was then commissioned to design the Buchanan Galleries Centre in Glasgow, a project which he initially led and which opened in 1999.

Over the years he had also been involved in the design of Aberdeen Journals’ building in the city’s Lang Stracht and headquarters for Total and Chevron.

A keen Rotarian, he was president of Aberdeen Rotary Club in 1995-96 and as a Burgess of the city he took on the role of Aberdeen’s second citizen when he became Dean of Guild between 1998 and 2002.

During that time he represented the Burgesses at every opportunity with unfailing courtesy and his customary cheerfulness and good humour.

He was involved when Sir Alex Ferguson received the Freedom of the City in 1999 and on an earlier occasion when former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev had the same honour bestowed on him. He was also appointed Lord President of the Court of Deans of the Guild of Scotland in 1999.

McKimmie, who was formerly chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, was also on the management board of Grampian Housing Association, chairman of Glencraft, a social enterprise whose staff includes employees with disabilities, and an avid supporter of Aberdeen’s independently-run Inchgarth Community Centre.

Having retired as a senior partner of Jenkins and Marr in 2000, he continued to contribute to his community as a governor of Robert Gordon University, where he sat on numerous committees and, in 2007, cut the first sod to signal the start of building work on a £115 million development of its Garthdee campus, designed to give the university some of Europe’s best teaching and research facilities.

Throughout all his professional and civic work he was supported by his wife, who gave up the prospect of a career in architecture in favour of his.

The couple, who had three daughters, lived all their married life in the same house in Aberdeen, which he frequently remodelled and extensively extended.

On one occasion, with work behind schedule, it was looking unlikely that he would be able to fulfil his promise to one of his girls that she would have her own bedroom in time for Christmas. The bare bones of the room were there but that was all. However, she returned from a Christmas Eve party to find her wish had come true: he had papered the walls, laid down a carpet and installed her bed and all the furniture – albeit she would then step out of her new room into a building site.

As a family they regularly enjoyed caravan holidays in Aviemore, where he and his wife became keen skiers. He did not take up the sport until he was in his 40s when, unable to fathom what it was that made people fanatical skiers, he decided to give it a go. He caught the bug and the couple subsequently skied in Canada, the United States and Europe.

He also travelled widely through his work, often spending time – through his connections with Total – in Villefranche on the French Riviera. But it was Aviemore that captured his heart, so much so that he built a home there, reminiscent of a ski chalet, where he had a telescope trained on the slopes so he could get up in the morning and immediately check the conditions.

The couple used to spend every weekend in Aviemore and he skied right up until his wife was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2012.

He then cared for her until she went into hospital two days before her death last December.

He died after returning from a short break in Lisbon with his daughter Leanne and is survived by her and her two sisters, Karen and Jill, and his grandsons Jonathon, Andrew and Adam.