Obituary: Douglas Hemmings OBE, local government official

Douglas Hemmings OBE
Douglas Hemmings OBE
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Douglas Hemmings OBE. Local Government Official. Born: 29 December 1926 in Leeds. Died: 1 May, 2018 in Ayr, aged 91.

Douglas Hemmings, who has died aged 91 following a short illness, was an adopted Ayrshireman who, over his long life, played a significant role in the life of the county.

His father Fred and mother Hilda were living in Yorkshire when Douglas, their only child, was born in December, 1926. In 1934, however, Fred came to Ayr, as head chef at the town’s Station Hotel and Douglas was enrolled at Newtonhead Primary School, where he excelled. He passed his 11-plus and went to Ayr Academy, where he again did well, particularly on the rugby field, where he spent three seasons in the 1st XV and was one of the elite who wore the distinctive white braid round their maroon blazers, to signify they had been awarded their “colours”.

But rugby was not the only field in which Douglas shone. He played junior ice hockey at the recently opened Ayr Ice Rink, before graduating to playing for the town’s senior team, the legendary Ayr Raiders. He also competed in speed skating with the Ayr Speed Skating Club.

That association with the rugby field and the ice rink would be a long one – he spent eight seasons, between 1952 and 1960, in Ayr Rugby Club’s 1st XV, at a time when the club was beginning the climb which has taken them to today’s lofty status in the club game in Scotland. He also, in adult life, curled with distinction and became President of Ayr Curling Club.

However, on leaving the Academy in 1945 his first stop was the Army. He may have missed the war, but Douglas did his bit to win the peace after he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps and sent to Southern Austria, where his responsibilities for the security of a 50-mile stretch of the Austrian-Yugoslav border were made more-tolerable after he met Luise, who lived in the small town of Arnfels, where Douglas’s office was situated.

Douglas and Luise were married in Leibnitz, the large town near Arnfels in February, 1948. They recently celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary – 70 years.

Back home in civvie street, Douglas followed his father into the hotel industry, obtaining a post with the Railways Hotels Executive’s Central Management team, based in the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh. From there he transferred to the Central Hotel in Glasgow, before returning to Ayrshire and a post on the management team at Turnberry Hotel.

In 1952, however, he quit the hospitality industry after obtaining a junior administrative post with Ayr County Council, based in Ayr’s County Buildings. He walked the corridors of the County Buildings for the next 22 years, rising to be Head of the County Clerk’s Department.

Then, with the dissolution of the old county councils into the new regional and district council groupings, Douglas was appointed as the first Chief Executive of the newly formed Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council, based at Lugar Works, near Cumnock. This was in 1974 and Douglas would lead the administrative staff for the next 17 years until his retirement, becoming highly thought of by both the elected councillors and the general population.

His service to the Council saw him made an OBE in 1988 and, when he retired three years later, he was sent on his way with the Freedom of the District, a rarely awarded honour.

He was involved in unsuccessful efforts to see Ayr County Council restored, as the big political parties ignored his and others’ suggestion, which had a lot of support locally.

In retirement, which enabled him to indulge in his hobbies of gardening, curling and bowling, and taking Luise and their family back regularly to see their Austrian relatives, he continued to provide civic service, as a trustee of the Burns Monument Trust, a role which he was persuaded to take up by the former Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire, Sir Bryce Knox.

He served this body for 17 years, while he also spent 25 years as President of the National Burns Memorial Homes Trust in Mauchline. He also continued to support Ayr Rugby Club.

Douglas Hemmings is survived by Luise, son Douglas, daughter Louisa and grand-daughters Jennifer, Joanne and Nicole.

MATTHEW VALLANCE