Obituary: John Furlong, hotelier and jazz enthusiast

John Furlong, Scottish hotelier. Born: 17 May, 1936 in Glasgow. Died: 17 October, 2019, aged 83

John Furlong with Prince Charles
John Furlong with Prince Charles

Renowned Scottish hotelier John Furlong, who oversaw the refurbishment of the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews when it was reopened by the Princess Royal, and who became a mentor to many of Scotland’s hotel managers, has died at the age of 83.

His role as manager of five-star hotels led to him meeting many leading actors and singers, and one of his proudest moments was when the great American jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald was staying at the prestigious Gosforth Park Hotel and told John, who had helped revive the Newcastle Jazz Festival, that she had trouble with her eyesight, and asked if he would walk her on to the stage when she was performing that night. Of course, he was delighted to agree.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

John Charles Furlong was born in Glasgow where his father, James, was a successful publican.

After completing his National Service, John followed his father into the bar and restaurant industry and became assistant manager at the former Guys Restaurant in Glasgow (which was owned by Scottish & Newcastle Thistle Hotel Group). It was during this time he met his wife Irene, who worked for his friend Jan Beresford, who owned the Campsie Glen Hotel.

On return from their honeymoon they became joint managers at the Boulevard Hotel on the outskirts of Glasgow, which was then owned by Scottish & Newcastle’s Thistle Hotels group.

They were so successful that within 18 months the company asked them to run the newly refurbished Tinto Firs Hotel, where they also proved a success.

Seeing how well they had performed there, the company offered John and Irene the management of their top hotel in Scotland, The Angus in Dundee.

Some years later, John took over their most prestigious hotel, the Gosforth Park at Newcastle, and his continuous drive for excellence helped establish it as one of the premier hotels outside London. It became known as “The Pride of the North” or, more irreverently, the “Glossy Gossy”.

John then moved to the five-star Carlton Hotel in Bournemouth, before returning to his beloved Scotland to reopen the refurbished Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, which famously overlooks the 17th Fairway on the world-famous Open golf course. He was able to secure the Princess Royal to carry out the official opening.

Eventually, John and Irene opened their own hotel in Dunoon before going on to run a chain of pubs in Glasgow, including one which they named Furlongs.

Throughout John’s career, many of his staff, who would follow him to whichever hotel he was running, would go on to become hotel managers themselves and credit John for his guidance and advice.

Away from hotels, John was a keen sailor and would often go sailing with his brother-in-law, Jim Diamond.

He told the story that once he and Jim were sailing in such bad weather that a fellow crewmate panicked and John had to tie him to the mast so that he wouldn’t do anything dangerous.

His other sporting love was horse racing and he would attend many of the top meetings around the country – but never placed a bet. He 
simply enjoyed the spectacle of the racing and the social gathering.

His other passions included good food, good wines, and jazz. He was a regular attendee at Ronnie Scots jazz club in Soho, with Ronnie being a frequent visitor to the Gosforth Park Hotel.

John formed a friendship with Andy Hudson and together they resurrected the Newcastle Jazz Festival. It was while she was staying at the Gosforth Park that Ella Fitzgerald asked John to take her on stage that night.

As fellow hotelier Maurice Taylor explained: “John had style but only in so far as he wanted and strived for excellence.

“In everything he did he wanted the best, and not only for himself but for all whom he touched. His ability to engage with people was amazing and his ability to have a conversation with anyone from anywhere was phenomenal.”

On his retirement, John and Irene – who had also become a successful artist – moved to a cottage near the Trump Turnberry Hotel in Ayrshire and became active members of the Turnberry community.

They were soon involved in local charities and good causes, where John’s skill as a gifted raconteur was often called up at events.

Indeed, on the day of the funeral, staff at Trump Turnery flew hotel flags at half mast in his memory.