Obituary: David Urquhart, part of Gordon & MacPhail whisky dynasty

David Urquhart, member of a whisky dynasty and a keen sailor who was a stalwart son on Moray. Picture: Contributed
David Urquhart, member of a whisky dynasty and a keen sailor who was a stalwart son on Moray. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 5 October, 1952. Died: 30 November, 2015, in Findhorn. Aged 63.

David Urquhart, one of the third generation of the Urquhart family, owners of Gordon & MacPhail, will be remembered not just for his outstanding contribution to the whisky industry but for the mark he made on the community in which he lived and worked all his life.

David was one of four siblings who comprised the third generation in the family-owned business. Leading experts in scotch malt whisky, the company celebrated its 120th anniversary this year.

He was born on 5 October 1952, the third child of George and Peggy Urquhart. George Urquhart, “Mr George” as he was known in the business, had taken over the company from his father John and David was destined, in turn to follow in his footsteps, along with his brothers Ian and Michael and his sister Rosemary. He was most recently a non-executive director of the family firm, having retired in 2012.

David had formally joined Gordon & MacPhail after leaving college in 1972, but had been part of the business long before then, helping out in the shop on South Street. David went to school at Aberlour House then Gordonstoun where he excelled at sport. He was in the First XV at rugby, a sprinter, a hockey player and a cross-country runner, but his real passion was for sailing, a love he shared with his father and then, in turn, with his sons.

Through sailing, David competed throughout the United Kingdom and abroad. He won multiple Scottish championships and also competed in the world championships for the Albacore class in Canada in 1977. He was heavily involved in the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club, serving on council a number of times and as Commodore in 1989.

When he first joined Gordon & MacPhail, David’s father tasked him with covering the north of Scotland, becoming UK sales director. He was a natural salesman and from these early days he found opportunities all over Scotland, before developing business south of the Border. He became joint managing director in 2007.

In 1975 David was invited to enjoy a dram at Hogmanay in the Findhorn home of a fellow wholesaler with whom he was doing business at the time. It was there he first met the businessman’s daughter, Sheila. They married in 1978 and set up home just outside Elgin at Kellas before eventually moving into the same house where they had first met in Findhorn. Here they raised their twin boys, Richard and Stuart. David was delighted when both his sons followed in his footsteps at the family firm.

A high point in David’s career was, along with his father and siblings – Rosemary, Ian and Michael – fulfilling family desire to own a distillery; an ambition realised in 1993 when the company bought Benromach Distillery in Forres.

David received many accolades during his long career in the industry including Lifetime Achievement Awards from Dram magazine and the Oran Mor Whisky Awards.

In 2013 he became the sixteenth inductee into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. He became a Master of the Quaich in 2008 and was immensely proud when his twin sons were made Keepers of the Quaich earlier this year. He was equally proud to welcome, Isla, the first member of the fifth generation in his branch of the Urquhart family in March 2014.

In his latter years in the family business he had the chance to combine work with pleasure when Benromach became sponsor of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in 2009.

David contributed significantly to the Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society (The Ben) where he was a director from 1999 through to 2005 including a period as president. He was also involved in the food and drink committee of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland.

His colleagues in the company speak warmly of a man who was a wonderful character and a born salesman who loved a job at which he excelled. A man with drive, energy and enthusiasm.

Yet David was first and foremost a proud son of Moray who cared passionately about his home territory and who contributed enormously to the community in which he lived all his life. He was involved in a number of organisations, too numerous to list here, but he had a particular passion for events. He played an instrumental role in attracting the European Pipe Band Championships to Forres for the first time. Such has been its success that the championships are set to remain in Forres for a further three year period. Nobody would deny that Piping@Forres owes its existence to David. In recognition of his involvement he was made Honorary Life President of Piping@Forres in 2014 and Ambassador of the Year at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards. He was also honoured to have been made a Burgess of Forres.

But the final word must acknowledge his role at the head of a loving family – the Urquhart crew - who shared a passion for sailing with the spectacular backdrop of Findhorn and the Moray Firth.

Delivering the eulogy to a packed church, family friend Jim Royan, pointed out “The Urquhart crew will regroup, they will have been given their instructions and there will always be a star in the sky to help them navigate the years ahead.” David Urquhart’s coffin was carried from the church to the strains of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It would have been hard to find a more fitting accompaniment for David’s final exit.