Obituary: Jack Romanes, journalist and publisher

Jack Romanes
Jack Romanes
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Born: 4 June, 1921, in Dunfermline, Fife. Died: 5 July, 2013, in Sarasota, Florida, aged 92.

JACK Romanes was a pioneering journalist with newsprint in his DNA. The fourth generation of his family to run the company behind the Dunfermline Press, he steered the business through massive expansion and technological revolution, paving the way for its emergence as ­Scotland’s largest independent regional newspaper holding.

A dashing, colourful character, who had done his apprenticeship as a junior reporter, he was a member of MI5 during the Second World War and served with the Royal Air Force in Burma and India.

Prominent in Dunfermline’s civic life, he continued in that vein when he retired to Florida, where he was instrumental in setting up his hometown’s Sister Cities’ link with Sarasota where Dunfermline’s opera house has been recreated.

John Adam Romanes, known as Jack, was born into the publishing dynasty whose roots stretched back to Archibald Romanes, a printer at the Dunfermline Press when it was established by linen manufacturer Erskine Beveridge in 1859.

Archibald became editor and proprietor and, when he died, the business was acquired by his son John and son-in-law William and became known as A Romanes & Son. They were later joined by their sons, one of whom was Andrew Blair Romanes, Jack’s father, who had trained on the Edinburgh Evening News and been president of Edinburgh Press Club.

Jack Romanes, who left Dunfermline High School in 1939, followed his father’s example by getting a grounding in journalism as a trainee with the former Edinburgh Evening Dispatch. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940 and, after three years in the ranks, was commissioned into the ­Intelligence Branch in 1943, joining 20 Fighter Reconnaissance Squadron in the Arakan area of the Burma Front.

He then spent a period in India lecturing to bomber crews from Europe before returning to Britain to become a member of MI5’s RAF section.

After being demobbed, in 1946 he joined the family firm as company secretary and reporter.

A member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, he studied print and printing administration at Edinburgh’s Heriot-­Watt College and, in 1959, produced the publication 100 Years of News, celebrating the centenary of the Dunfermline Press. A decade later he redesigned the paper to feature news on the front page.

He regarded himself as a journalist by training and instinct but he also proved a shrewd businessman, one of the visionaries of Scottish printing. He was in the vanguard of new technology, one of the first Scottish regional proprietors to convert from letter-press printing to photo-lithography and computerised typesetting. That investment reaped rewards as the firm won national accolades for colour advertising and the best British newspaper supplement in 1976 for a publication he wrote and designed to commemorate the American Bicentennial.

He served the company for almost 40 years, during which time he oversaw the takeover of the Lochgelly Times and the Cowdenbeath Advertiser which he merged to create the Central Fife Times; produced the free newspaper Fife and Kinross Extra plus a free distribution commercial directory; and launched a French-language free-distribution magazine, ­Prevue, into France, Belgium and Luxemburg to support British exports to the European Union.

At one point, when he realised there was spare capacity with a new press, he diversified into commercial printing, publishing house journals for clients including BP, the National Farmers’ Union, General Accident, the Transport & General Workers’ Union and the Church of Scotland for which he printed Life and Work.

The expanding company moved in 1975 from New Row, Dunfermline, to its site at Pitreavie where it remains. ­Romanes retired as chairman and managing director in 1984 and was succeeded by the fifth generation, his son Iain and Iain’s late wife Deirdre.

Away from the firm, he was an honorary trustee and past chairman of the Carnegie Dunfermline and Hero Fund Trusts. He was also an executive committee member of the Dunfermline-based Carnegie United Kingdom Trust and an honorary member of the RAF Mess in their then Nato headquarters at Pitreavie.

In addition he was a past president of the Scottish Newspaper Proprietors’ Association and the Fife Master Printers’ Association, a board member of the Weekly Newspaper Advertising Bureau in London and a founder director of Edinburgh’s Radio Forth.

He lived in Limekilns and Saline before retiring to America where latterly his home was at Longboat Key, Florida. It was while living in the US that he played a key role, through the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, in establishing the link between Sarasota and Dunfermline, which were twinned in 2002.

He is survived by his wife Maggie, son Iain and daughter Carol, two grandchildren and a great grandson.