Obituary: Fraser Evans, farmer and union leader

Fraser Evans
Fraser Evans
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Born: 25 May, 1924, in Alton, Galloway. Died: 26 November, 2013, in Dumfries, aged 89

Two months ago, on 1 October, the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFU) celebrated its centenary with an event at Ingliston House. The gathering included the proverbial great and good of Scottish agriculture including current and former office bearers of the union.

Prominent among them with his trademark bow-tie was Fraser Evans, who had held the top office in the union back in 1975, making him the oldest surviving leader of the organisation.

It could have been said that he was born to take high office as his father, T R Evans, had held posts within the NFU and the NFU Mutual Insurance company as well as helping establish the Milk Marketing Board.

Fraser was born on the family farm at Alton near the Mull of Galloway but he spent his youthful years on a model dairy farm near Sheffield after his father moved the family south. His father had found out that milk prices in that area were higher than they were in the south-west of Scotland.

However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, the farm became a decoy target for enemy bombing raids on Sheffield, leaving Fraser with tales of dropping sandbags on incendiary bombs.

Small wonder the family moved back north to Penkiln Farm, Garlieston in 1943. Another reason for the family move was that, with the arrival of the Milk Marketing Board, prices paid to farmers were levelled off regardless of where the milk was produced.

The move to Penkiln did not remove Fraser from the arena of war as the farm provided a grandstand view of the Mulberry Harbour trials in Garlieston Bay, as well as there being lots of military camps in the area.

But these were busy days on farms with pressure on to produce more and more food for wartime Britain. Land girls and prisoners of war replaced men who had joined up for war service. Fraser was left to run the new dairy at Penkiln with two PoWs as assistant dairymen.

Away from the farm, Fraser enjoyed sailing with Whithorn Sailing Club where, along with a young lady called Jane as crew, he proved his competitiveness. That sailing friendship blossomed into marriage and soon after into family life when Ian, then Heather and Dougal were born.

In 1955 he joined the local branch of the NFU and by 1962 he was a member on the Labour and Machinery Committee at the union headquarters in Edinburgh. He served for 20 years on that committee and proved to be a firm and fair negotiator.

In 1975, Fraser was elected president of NFU Scotland. In those days there were some 14,000 members across Scotland and those members expected to see their president.

In addition to keeping in touch with the union’s grass roots members, the president had to head the annual price review negotiations with the government. These were difficult times for dairymen and Fraser had to address a mass rally of 3,000 angry milk producers in Westminster Hall during his leadership.

After his term of office with the union finished he moved on to become chairman of SAOS, the umbrella body for agricultural co-operatives and a cause very close to his heart. Throughout his life he passionately believed farmers should work together in order to gain the maximum benefit from their efforts.

His range of off-farm commitments grew. He served on the board of the West of Scotland Agricultural College at a time when the experimental dairies were being planned at the Crichton in Dumfries.

He spent two terms on the board of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board. During the second term, the Galloway Creamery in Stranraer was closed and threatened with being dismantled and rebuilt in India.

With Fraser in the background a “gang of five young men”, which included his son Ian, was established and, against massive odds, the creamery was both saved and brought under local control.

Another most successful venture was the setting up, with Jane, of Galloway Farm Secretarial Services. Over the years they nurtured the business and today it continues to be a huge benefit to the local community.

In his many committees, as a chairman, Fraser was always dynamic, forthright and fearless in representing the interests of the farmers on the ground, even if that did not suit those in high office. But for that, he would almost certainly have received an honour.

At home he never lost his great interest in the day-to-day running of the farm. Locally, a chance meeting with Fraser was often fun. Usually it began with something serious. That would remind him of a funny story or anecdote. In no time it would be hilarious. There were few who didn’t feel the benefit of meeting Fraser.

Above all, he was a devoted family man – a tower of strength in times of trouble, and a constant support. He died peacefully with his family beside him.