Obituary: Harold Alexander Whitson CBE, building contractor and businessman

Obit pic of Harold Whitson CBE.
Obit pic of Harold Whitson CBE.
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Born: 20 September, 1916, in Glasgow. Died: 30 June, 2013, in Biggar, aged 96

With the passing of Harold Whitson, peacefully at the age of 96, we have lost that rare blend of country gentleman and successful businessman. During his long career in the building industry he was not afraid to innovate and adopt new techniques and materials to improve construction.

He was born in Glasgow in 1916, three years before the family moved to Symington in Lanarkshire. He was educated at Cargilfield and Rugby School, where he did well academically and played rugger for the 1st XV as a prop forward.

On leaving school he was apprenticed to Ruston Bucyrus in Lincoln before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a keen follower of the Trinity beagles and graduated with a BA Hons in mechanical science.

In 1938 he went with friends on a cycling tour of Scandinavia before starting work with Pauling & Co in Guernsey on the construction of the dam for the St Saviour’s Reservoir.

The following year he joined Sir William Halcrow where he qualified as a civil engineer and worked on various projects including the design of the Claerwen Dam in Wales for approval by Parliament.

During the war Whitson served with the Royal Engineers at home and overseas including postings to India and later Iran. In 1942 he married Rowena Pitt while on leave in London. In 1943 his younger brother Michael was killed in a flying accident in a “spotter” aircrafted with the artillery.

On returning home at the end of the war he joined Melville, Dundas and Whitson (MDW) at its London office before returning to Scotland in 1948. He was initially involved with the construction of British Iron and Steel Federation houses as part of the 5,000 new homes being built in Scotland through the Scottish Housing Group. Following the death of his father, Whitson joined the board of MDW, later becoming chairman. The company went public in the mid-1950s and moved away from civil engineering contracts to undertake major industrial developments including the car manufacturing plants at Linwood and Bathgate, shipbuilding facilities on the Clyde and ongoing work for Rolls Royce, Courtaulds, The Distillers Company and many other household names.

During the 1970s MDW completed many of the general hospitals in central Scotland and numerous city office developments in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

MDW was acquired by FJC Lilley plc in 1981. His other appointments included a term as chairman of the Scottish section of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors and later chairman of the Aims of Industry in Scotland.

He was a past deacon of the Incorporation of Hammermen of Glasgow in 1967-68 and also served on the board of the East Kilbridge Development Corporation – Scotland’s First New Town.

In 1969 he was president of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and in 1970 was awarded a CBE.

Whitson also served on the board of the Scottish Mutual Life Assurance Society and was appointed chairman during its centenary year. In 1979 he was appointed chairman of the Irvine Development Corporation just prior to a visit to Irvine by Her Majesty the Queen.

At his core he was a family man and is survived by three of his five children. He was a dedicated gardener and his vegetables won prizes at local shows. His amaryllis, cinerara and gloxinia were also greatly admired.

He enjoyed country pursuits and playing bridge. He took a keen interest in current affairs and was not reticent in sharing his views.

In April 2003, Rowena, his wife for 61 years, died peacefully at home. A man of great integrity, charm and humour, he will be sadly missed by his whole family and all who knew him.