Obituary: Ian Roy Morrison, entrepreneur and campaigner

Ian Morrison: Campaigner who helped change the rules on availability of cancer drugsIan Morrison: Campaigner who helped change the rules on availability of cancer drugs
Ian Morrison: Campaigner who helped change the rules on availability of cancer drugs
Born: 24 June, 1956, in Stranraer. Died: 30 January, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 57

Ian Morrison sought publicity only late in his life, when, as a victim of the cancer that would eventually cause his death last week, he fought the bureaucracy of the National Health Service – and won.

His remarkably courageous stance on the issue of whether Scottish cancer victims should be provided with life-prolonging drugs by the NHS made headlines in 2012.

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Ian had been diagnosed with bowel cancer the previous year, and he and his then-fiancée Jacqui reacted with a resourcefulness and determination that was typical of both of them.

They brought forward their wedding which, by chance, then took place at 11am on 11 November, 2011. One month later, Ian had part of his bowel removed and then had chemotherapy, but the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, and though he hoped for the best, it then spread to his lungs and liver.

The couple found that a new generation of drugs was helping people with cancer to live longer, but NHS Lothian, which was responsible for his treatment, refused to pay for Cetuximab, though it was widely available in England and to “special cases” elsewhere in Scotland.

The Morrisons spent £12,000 on a private course of Cetuximab treatment while enlisting the help of people like local MSP Christine Grahame and the Beating Bowel Cancer group to fight this NHS anomaly. The press highlighted this “postcode lottery” case, not least when Jacqui took to the boards in a production of Calendar Girls by the local LyneUp amateur dramatic group, playing Chris, whose husband dies of cancer in the play.

Ian insisted on serving at the bar at every performance, and his were not the only eyes that did not stay dry. NHS Borders eventually agreed to pick up the bill for Ian’s treatment and refunded the couple’s initial outlay. The treatment did indeed prolong his life by at least a year.

His victory over the system, along with those of others who came forward to tell their stories, saw the Scottish Government forced to react, and in October last year health secretary Alex Neil announced that there would be a new flexible approach “that will increase access to new medicines and make the system better and more open for patients”.

In the future, countless Scots struck down by cancer and other rare diseases have Ian and the other campaigners to thank for their courage.

Yet to define Ian simply as “cancer victim” is to deny the extraordinary substance of a gifted man, an entrepreneur who was in person both open and honest, with an ability to make friends easily and keep them long.

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Born in Stranraer, one of three children of Jim, a warrant officer in the army, and Doreen, he had the peripatetic existence typical of a son of the military. He attended six schools in nine years, having particularly fond memories of his time in Dorset, before completing his education at Boroughmuir High School.

When Ian left school, his father persuaded him to join the civil service, but his heart was not in it, and an offer to work in the retail trade sparked off his entrepreneurial spirit. With his lifelong friend Ian Young, he got involved in shops like the Jolly Jean Company.

He then became part of the 1970s Cockburn Street “jeans scene” in which numerous fashion businesses were established in the winding Old Town thoroughfare that was once dubbed Scotland’s Carnaby Street.

In 1981 he joined the then-fledgling company Schuh, selling shoes from a shop in North Bridge Arcade at the top of Cockburn Street.

He became sales director of the firm, but when it was reorganised in 1988, and in order to spend more time with his young children, he quit Schuh and for some years drove a taxi, after moving his family to West Linton.

He remained an entrepreneur at heart, however, and in 1995, along with second wife Alison and partners Dave and Pauline Murray, he opened his own successful business, The Fire Side, in West Linton, selling stoves and accessories. Hundreds of homes in the Borders, Lothians and Lanarkshire are now heated by a Fire Side stove, as he had correctly anticipated the increased demand for traditional methods of heating in an age of soaring energy prices.

The move to West Linton was the making of Ian, who threw himself into every facet of life in the historic village. He was soon a stalwart of the Whipman festival – West Linton’s part of the Borders rideout scene. He was an excellent horseman and assisted many a saddle-sore rider in his capacity as a marshal. Ian also played a full part in many other community activities, such as the local PTA.

His hobbies included power boating, skiing – he made an annual trip to Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps – and riding his motorbike, the common denominator of these pursuits being speed, though he never did anything on land or water quite as fast as the charity skydive he once undertook.

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Always the life and soul of a party, Ian would often adopt the persona of a Grinch or Grumpy Old Man, but no sooner was a laugh gained from this interlude than he would burst into smiles. Typically, he made light of his cancer with humour that was not so much black as Stygian.

The poet Norman McCaig once said of his friend Hugh McDiarmid that his passing should be commemorated with “two minutes pandemonium”. The equivalent for Ian would be two minutes of pretend cantankerousness, followed by a communal dinner at the Old Bakehouse restaurant in West Linton, a place that was almost a second home to him.

The village of West Linton is a tight-knit community, and the mourning for this man is genuine and widespread, as he was a popular figure, familiar to many. He will be very much missed by all who knew him.

Ian married thrice, to Lorraine and then Alison, by whom he had his two children, and then Jacqui. He is survived by Jacqui and his previous wives, by his mother Doreen and mother-in-law Joyce, by his siblings Margaret and Graham, and by his two daughters, Holly and Kim, and his stepchildren, Nik and Anita.

His passing will leave a gap in their lives that can never be filled, but they have all reacted to his death in a fashion that would have made him proud.

A celebration of his life will take place at Mortonhall Crematorium on Friday, 7 February, at 3pm. At his request, mourners should not wear black.

Nor should they expect anything other than a riotous wake afterwards in tribute to a life lived to the full with courage and passion, and cut so tragically short.