Jack Gillespie, former vice-chairman of Rangers FC and a very successful garage owner, has died at the age of 87. However, he leaves a lasting legacy, as, quietly, almost unnoticed, he did more than most to redevelop Ibrox Stadium and turn it into one of the finest football stadiums in Europe.
A lifelong Rangers fan, Gillespie seized his opportunity to be more than a businessman supporter in the mid-1970s, when he acquired the large shareholding of former director Matt Taylor, building on this solid foundation to become one of the Glasgow club’s largest shareholders. This enabled him to get a place on the board in September 1977.
The next few years would be difficult ones for Rangers, as they were unable to withstand a two-pronged attack, from traditional Glasgow rivals Celtic on one side and the “New Firm” of Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and Jim McLean’s Dundee United on the other.
However, while John Greig and Jock Wallace struggled in the technical area, in the boardroom, with Gillespie in the van of the reformers, the board embarked on the redevelopment of Ibrox. Gillespie’s business acumen was crucial in the financing of the rebuild and to his death, he was proud of his role in making Ibrox an international showpiece.
He supported Lawrence Marlborough and David Holmes, as well as David Murray and, while some old-style Rangers men baulked at the event, Gillespie was a firm supporter of Murray’s and Graeme Souness’s mould-shattering move, which brought Maurice Johnston to Rangers. Significantly, Gillespie was beside Murray, Souness and Johnston at the momentous press conference at which Mo-Jo’s arrival was announced.
But that was the Gillespie way; everything he tried, he went at full-throttle. He was proud of his Rangers connection, in particular his part in rebuilding the ground. He made many friends in football, including many members of the Celtic family and, in his latter days, he was saddened by the apparent breakdown in relations between the two clubs, following the Rangers’ meltdown.
His family insist Rangers were only his second love; his first was sailing. He moored his first boat at Clynder, his last one at Kip Marina, but, such was his dedication to doing sailing properly, he went to night classes at Glasgow’s Nautical College to obtain his master’s ticket, enjoying membership of the Clyde Cruising Club even after he stepped ashore for the last time in 1985.
Jack was born in Kirkintilloch, where his grandfather had been a well-known local figure, keeper of the important Kirkintilloch Lock on the Forth and Clyde Canal. As a young boy, he had moved to Coatbridge, where he was schooled, and, on leaving Coatbridge High, he went to work in the local Lochrin Ironworks. An energetic and dedicated employee, he rapidly rose through the ranks and, by his mid-20s, he was shop-floor foreman, in charge of more than 200 men. He could then, in 1951, marry his sweetheart Nan, a Coatbridge girl, and set off on a 55-year marriage which was only ended by Nan’s passing in 2007.
He then had a short spell working in a nail factory, before, in 1953, he made a change of career path by buying a single-pump filling station in Lenzie, where, when not selling the petrol, he was the motor mechanic.
Jack expanded the business by taking on a Vauxhall dealership, which, by hard work and good business practices, he built into Gillespie’s of Lenzie, one of the most successful in the west of Scotland. He sold the car sales side of the business to another self-made man, Sir Arnold Clark, in 1995, but he retained the petrol station, which is still run today by his son Ian.
Jack is survived by daughter Anne Barraclough, her two children Ross and Gillian and by Ian and his children, Pamela and John.
He is fondly remembered at Rangers with Ibrox legend Sandy Jardine describing him as “a true Rangers Man”.