Obituary: James McPherson CBE, solicitor and Lord Lieutenant

BORN: 20 November, 1927, in Wormit, Fife. Died: 12 August, 2012, in Macduff, Banffshire, aged 84

ALTHOUGH a solicitor by career, James McPherson was a man of many parts, a leading light in the ancient county of Banffshire. He was Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire for 15 years, handing over in 2002 to the current incumbent, Clare Nancy Russell, the Lady Laird of Ballindalloch Castle, Speyside. In that unpaid, non-political role, he was the Queen’s representative for the county, his formal duty “to uphold the dignity of the Crown”. At grass-roots level, it was to promote local social co-operation and support everything from businesses to charities, something which came as second nature to him. As Lord Lieutenant from 1987, he was responsible for arranging visits to Banffshire by the members of the Royal Family, escorting them around and serving as the official liaison between the Queen and the county’s army, navy, RAF and Royal Marines’ units.

On formal occasions, he would be seen in the dark blue, military-style Lord Lieutenant’s uniform complete with the cap of a general and a sword in a steel scabbard. Next day, you might well bump into “Jimmy” in a swimming costume, teaching children to swim in the Tarlair open-air public pool near his home in his beloved fishing harbour town of Macduff on the Moray Firth.

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As a young man, he was one of the first to make the often-dangerous one-mile swim from Banff to Macduff harbour and he held the record time for the swim for several years. He later helped found the now-annual Banff Bay Swim, for young and old, and he himself handed out the prizes two years ago this week.

While he was a solicitor, a senior partner and later a consultant for Alexander George & Co of Macduff, he had a long, almost dazzling succession of civic roles, for which he was either appointed or volunteered.

He was a Justice of the Peace, provost of Macduff (1972-75, until the Local Government Reform (Scotland) Act did away with town councils; Convener of Banff County Council; a member of the old Grampian Regional Council and of its Health Board during the 1970s and 80s; a member of the Police Advisory Board for Scotland; governor of the Scottish Police College; vice-president of the Highland Territorial and Reserve Forces; a member of the Aberdeen University Court; honorary Sheriff of the Grampian Highland and Islands at Banff. If reading about all these jobs tired you, imagine doing them.

He was also a scout leader, a keen reader and sailor, a leading local historian and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, based in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which aims to promote our nation’s cultural heritage.

That gave him the right to add the letters FSA (Scot) to the many after his name. Perhaps most important to him were his church and the many charities he was involved with: he was a stalwart of the landmark Macduff Parish Church (formerly known as Doune church) overlooking the town’s picturesque harbour. He also played roles in the regional presbytery and in Church of Scotland bodies at national level.

As well as his local Rotary, he was deeply involved in local charities. In 1990, he was one of the founding volunteers of now much-loved and copied Talking Banffie, based in Banff Castle, which provided CDs – and more recently digital recordings – to blind, partially sighted or stroke-disabled people – via the local newspaper The Banffshire Journal. He was also an active donor and supporter of Friends of Chalmers Hospital in Banff, whose redeveloped and modernised buildings the Princess Royal opened earlier this year.

A decade earlier, as Lord Lieutenant, it would have been Jimmy McPherson who would have shown Princess Anne round but he lived long enough to see the modernisation of a hospital for whose future he had fought for many years.

In 1997, McPherson was also one of the original Friends of Duff House, the 18th-century mansion now owned by Historic Scotland, its stunning artwork, furniture and other artefacts provided by the National Galleries of Scotland, along with items gifted by the Clan Macduff Society of America.

Famed for its external horseshoe staircase, Duff House now overlooks the Duff House Royal Golf Club and is popular for weddings of couples from around the world. The donations, time and energy put in by McPherson and other “Friends” helped ensure Duff House’s future.

James Alexander Strachan McPherson was born in 1927 in the Firth of Tay village of Wormit, famous at the time for being at the southern end of the mighty Tay Rail Bridge and for being, it claimed, the first Scottish village to have electricity, via a home-made hilltop windmill.

Moving farther north up the east coast, he attended Banff Academy before studying law at Aberdeen University, graduating MA, BL, LLB.

For the national service, which was compulsory at the time, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery from 1952-54. Back on the Moray Firth, he married Banff lass Helen Marjorie Perks in 1960.

James McPherson was honoured as a Commander of the British Empire in 1982. He retired as a consultant solicitor in 2001 after 45 years with the same firm, but continued as a director or consultant to several local businesses, still continuing to swim or sail in between his multiple charity work. He is survived by his wife Helen, son Ewan, daughter Leslie and four grandchildren.

PHIL DAVISON