Obituary: Jim Glass, businessman and racehorse owner

Jim Glass obit
Jim Glass obit
Share this article
Have your say

James Alfred Glass. Born: 28 December 1932 in Edinburgh. Died: 9 April 2017, in Edinburgh, aged 84.

In a long life lived well, Jim Glass was a kenspeckle and popular figure in several walks of Scottish life, a devoted family man who rose from humble origins he never forgot to being a property developer who changed the face of Scotland.

He was also a lover of sport, a lifelong fan of Hibernian FC who had the rare achievement of trying to buy both Hibs and Hearts, as well as a noted owner of greyhounds and greyhound stadia and a racehorse owner whose colours were officially described as “blue with white crossbelts”, better known to his fellow patriotic Scots as the Saltire.

Similar colours were carried by One For Arthur to win the recent Grand National, and Glass also lived long enough to see the fulfilment of one great ambition in that Hibs finally won the Scottish Cup last year.

Glass was born in Pitt Street, now Dundas Street, in Edinburgh during the Great Depression, the only boy among the three children of James and Elizabeth, nee Moffat. He attended Broughton School, leaving at 15 to begin a draughtsman’s apprenticeship he curtailed at 18 by joining the Royal Air Force, where he became a navigator.

He flew aboard Lancasters and Shackleton long-range anti-submarine and air-sea rescue aircraft, as well as Canberra jet bombers, and saw active service in the 
Middle East, particularly in photo-reconnaissance during the Suez campaign. While in the RAF he married Iris Miller, whom he had first met at the age of 14 – they would be together for 70 years, their wedding celebrated on 8 June 1953. They would go on to have five children – Karen, James, Jane, Iain and Kevin.

Glass ended his RAF career as a Flight Lieutenant and returned to Edinburgh in 1958 to take a management traineeship with the Northern Rubber Company in the capital, part of the giant American-owned Uniroyal group.

He rose rapidly within the company and by 30 was manager of a factory with 3,000 employees. He progressed further, eventually becoming Personnel Director for Uniroyal in the UK, Spain and Italy. His grasp of industrial relations was formidable, informed both by his own fair-minded personality, his RAF service and his family background – his mother hailed from the mining village of Lumphinnans in Fife, where the Moffat family produced trade union leaders such as Glass’s cousins Abe and Alex Moffatt, both of whom became President of the Scottish NUM. Another cousin was a certain footballer by the name of Jim Baxter.

Glass’s ability to talk to all levels within the company, from shop floor to boardroom, made him invaluable to Uniroyal, where he pioneered new deals that benefitted the workforce while improving productivity, all but eradicating the industrial action that had plagued Uniroyal.

In the 1960s he began to take an interest in local politics and joined the Conservatives, becoming chairman of Edinburgh Central Conservative Association, though to the end of his life he remained the least likely Tory imaginable and had great Labour friends such as councillors David Brown and Peter Boyes. Asked why he joined, he replied “because they asked me”. Indeed, they asked more of him and he became the party’s candidate for Aberdeenshire West, pulling out to be replaced by a certain Colonel Colin “Mad” Mitchell of Aden and the “Save The Argylls” fame, who duly won the seat in 1970.

By then Glass had tired of the multinational corporate life and had a brief spell in the Borders knitwear industry, first as production director of Ballantynes in Innerleithen and then becoming managing director of Braemar knitwear in Hawick, improving industrial relations at both companies.

The 1970s saw Glass reinvent himself as a management consultant and property developer, with considerable success. He was one of the first to spot the trend for retail warehouses and out-of-town retail parks, and his clients included Lord Harris of Peckham (Harris Queensway), Richard Northcott (Dodge City now B&Q) and Derek Hunt (MFI), for whom he undertook an ambitious development programme purchasing sites, procuring the warehouse building and selling the resulting rental income into the institutional investment markets.

He was a dealmaker par excellence, once developing a supermarket on the Isle of Bute which no one else thought possible due to the complexity of ownership. His most famous achievement was to team up with his friend Sir John Hall of Metrocentre fame and build what was then Craig Park, but is now known as Fort Kinnaird to the southeast of Edinburgh.

The site was then a coal bing and Glass climbed atop it and declared it would one day be a park full of stores and shops, causing his companion, fellow racehorse owner Freddie Wilson, to momentarily doubt his sanity in the choicest of terms.

The visionary Glass persevered and succeeded with the development and many others across Scotland through his Glassedin companies. Shrewd and tough in business, it was also typical of him that he offered £500,000 to help establish the Craigmillar Opportunities Trust, which has done sterling work for that part of the capital.

In a parallel career he moved into the licensed trade and had great success with his friend Hamish Henderson at the Bailie Bar in Edinburgh. James Jr – always called Wee Jim to distinguish himself from Big Jim, though he was taller than his father – now runs the remaining family business, the estimable Cockatoo Restaurant at Millerhill.

His sporting life was remarkable. Glass had been a greyhound fan since childhood, first owning a racing dog while still a teenager. He would have many champions over the years including Edinburgh Cup winner Bealkilla Diver and Scottish Derby winner Greenville Boy. His daughter Jane also became a top trainer of greyhounds and now runs the kennels near the family home at Cranstoun in Midlothian. At one time he also owned the Gosforth Park and Brough Park tracks in Newcastle, but remained at heart a Powderhall man.

Always a fan of the Turf – jumps racing more than Flat –he moved into racehorse ownership and came to know the joys and frustrations of that pursuit. The two best-known horses he was associated with were Moment of Truth, trained by his great friend Peter Monteith, which once ran up a sequence of 11 wins in 13 steeplechases, including the prestigious Northumberland Gold Cup, and Livio, a hurdler that gave him his greatest betting coup. He never revealed just how much he won betting on Livio at Newcastle in 1996, but suffice to say it was many, many times more than the £2,749 prize money.

Always a follower of Hibs, he came within a whisker of buying the Easter Road club but his £800,000 deal with then owner Kenny Waugh fell through. Nothing daunted, he tried to buy Hearts from Chris Robinson and Leslie Deans in the mid-1990s. Glass had a vision of building a new Edinburgh community stadium at Millerhill and giving Hearts and Hibs half the facilities each – a normal practice abroad but frowned on here.

He, sadly, lost many of his friends from the world of business and sport including footballer Dave Mackay and businessmen Eddie Cobb and Alan West, while the tragic loss of Peter Monteith in 2010 hit him particularly hard.

Yet this ebullient and charismatic character was never down for too long, and he liked nothing better than to participate in gatherings of family and friends. He revelled in the affectionate nickname of Ayatollah, and doted on his grandchildren and great grandchildren, always exclaiming “aren’t we lucky?”

Though he had been very ill for some months, he bore his illness with great fortitude until he passed away early last Sunday. All those who knew this much-loved gentleman will now know the meaning of the old words in the Bible, to paraphrase: his leaving is like annihilation, but he is at peace.Jim Glass is survived by Iris, his five children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His funeral is at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh at noon on Wednesday 19 April.