Obituary: David Smith, sheriff

Born: 31 October, 1936, in Paisley. Died: 2 December, 2015, in Ayr, aged 79.

Sheriff David Smith served as sheriff in the court of North Strathclyde and Kilmarnock for more than 25 years and was a respected figure in the Scottish legal profession. He was a strong robust character with (latterly) a grizzly grey beard that added a certain distinction and allure. Smith gained a somewhat controversial reputation in the profession but his judgments were always sound and lucidly delivered. Because of the cascading beard he was known on the bench as “The Ayatollah”. In curling circles – where he was a gloriously colourful character at rinks throughout Scotland – he was more respectfully known as The Sheriff.

In his eulogy at the funeral Sheriff Richard Scott spoke admiringly of his life-long friend. “I was very fond of ­David. In company, he was a formidable, though at heart benign presence. People called him ‘larger than life’, probably he was larger than them! His quick mind and fund of knowledge put him at least one jump ahead of most of us.”

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David Buchanan Smith attended Paisley Grammar School and then read classics at Glasgow University and law at Edinburgh University – graduating in 1961. Smith did his apprenticeship with the Edinburgh firm of Shepherd & Wedderburn WS and was called to the Bar. He proved an articulate and sound advocate mostly defending cases in the criminal courts. Smith also as a tutor in law at Edinburgh University 1964-72 and was then appointed sheriff of North Strathclyde and Kilmarnock in 1975; a post he held with distinction until he retired in 2001.

Smith was a man of many passions but curling was undoubtedly pre-eminent. He was an authority on the sport’s history and collected its memorabilia. He travelled Scotland watching or participating in the sport. It had started in his youth at the Haymarket Ice Rink in the early1960s firstly with the Coates Curling Club and then the Duddingston Curling Society. He moved to Troon in 1976 and joined Ayr CC and Troon Portland CC.

Smith was an enthusiastic presence at bonspiels and often served as Recorder for the Grand Match. At the 1979 Grand Match at the Lake of Menteith it is recorded in the minutes that, “as Sheriff David observed ‘No-one knows whether North or South won. No-one cares. Winning is not important. To have been there is the thing.’”

That encapsulates Smith’s love and joy in the sport. Smith wrote widely about the sport and published in 1981: Curling, An Illustrated History.

Smith was on numerous curling committees and received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Royal Caledonian Curing Club. He served twice on the Council of the Stair Society and was a lover of Robert Burns, opera and early music and sailing. He remained a proud and fervent Scot invariably wearing the kilt at social occasions. Smith had studied the history of Scotland all his life and had a broad knowledge of its culture and traditions.

Sheriff Smith is survived by his wife Hazel and their son and daughter.