Obituary: John Milne Dow MBE, civil servant

Born: 26 August, 1919, in Glasgow. Died: 7 November, 2014, in Dumbarton, aged 95.
John Dow MBE: Civil servant lauded for his NHS work, with a passion for Burns and bowlingJohn Dow MBE: Civil servant lauded for his NHS work, with a passion for Burns and bowling
John Dow MBE: Civil servant lauded for his NHS work, with a passion for Burns and bowling

National Health Service administrator, Queen’s Park footballer, bowler and Burnsian John Milne Dow has died, aged 95.

Dow was born in Glasgow and moved at an early age with his parents Peter and Agnes Dow to Dumbarton, where he grew up with his four sisters.

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He attended Knoxland Primary School and Dumbarton Academy from 1924 to 1935 and was later employed by Dumbarton Town Council in the Public Assistance Department, between 1935 and 1946.

During the Second World War years he served as a pilot with 179 Squadron Coastal Command, which took him to many locations in North America, training in Detroit, Florida, and Prince Edward Island, amongst others, and in the UK from Cornwall to the Outer Hebrides.

In 1948 he joined the newly established National Health Service, which was to be the focus of his working career and beyond.

Starting as an accountant with the Executive Council for Dunbartonshire, he went on to become its clerk and finance officer in 1953.

Studying at evening classes, he gained a Diploma in Public Administration from Glasgow University in 1950.

Dow also served as the first chairman of Dumbarton Burgh Children’s Panel from 1970 to 1974.

Following a major re- organisation of the NHS in that year, his place of work moved to Paisley and until his retirement ten years later he occupied the post of administrator, Primary Care, for Argyll and Clyde Health Board.

In the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list of 1985 he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire MBE, for services to the NHS.

Dow’s link to the NHS continued after retirement.

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For 15 years from 1986 to 2001 – by which time he was 82 – he was founder chairman of the Argyll and Clyde Branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship.

At the same time, from 1990 to 1999, he was chairman of the Federation of Scottish Branches of the Fellowship, becoming its first president in 1999.

Dow maintained close links with the Retirement Fellowship until his final weeks.

He was for 23 years treasurer of Dumbarton High and Riverside Churches, an elder since 1954, and played an active role supporting the Rev Jim Dunn in the context of the consolidation of the Dumbarton church landscape in the late 1960s, when, amongst others, the High and Parish Churches were amalgamated to form Riverside Church.

He was founder secretary of Dumbarton Rotary Club in 1960 and its president in 1966.

A member of Dumbarton Burns Club since 1969, he served as its president in 1978. His passion for the poetry of Robert Burns was a lifelong one, his many renderings of Tam o’ Shanter unforgettable.

It was as a mature young man of 36 he had decided that bowling would be his sport and it became another lifelong passion.

His heyday years as a bowler included a year as president of Dumbarton Bowling Club in 1964 and winner of a whole range of trophies.

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He was secretary of Dunbartonshire Bowling Association from 1970-72 and its president in 1990.

In 2004, he was appointed honorary president of Dumbarton Bowling Club and his Friday night visits with his friends to the bowling club bar were a feature of recent years – that is, when he was in Scotland, and not in London, Australia or Germany, visiting his children.

Fellow Burnsian Jimmy Hempstead’s poem The Tam o’ Shanter Mug, in which Johnnie Dow brings home an unsightly trophy to his wife, is a classic of Hempstead’s humorous verse and nicely combines the Burns and bowling sides of John Dow: ‘A booler ye can always tell,

Wi’ badges pinned doon each lapel,

Like campaign medals they proclaim

The competitions he’s won at hame.

And others on some foreign green,

Twixt Garelochhead and Aberdeen;

While special badges represent

Life member and ex-president.’

Before taking up bowling, however, Dow was a footballer, even making it as far as playing for Queen’s Park in Glasgow.

A recent event organised by the Dumbarton Academy Former Pupils Football Club featured a photograph, later published in the Lennox Herald, of the youngest member together with him as the oldest member present.

His families were moved to learn that a minute’s silence was observed in his honour before the kick-off of a recent game on Dumbarton Common. By half-time, however, with a score of Dumbarton down 1-4 against Doune Castle, some of the most stalwart supporters were beginning to leave and shortly afterwards the score went to 1-5.

How did it finish – 1-10 or worse? Not at all: it’s reported that a 12th man may have been at work on the Dumbarton side: they scored five more goals and won 6-5!

John Dow was married to Pat for almost 65 years. They met in Cardiff during the war and they were able to do much together during the many years of their marriage. They have three children, John, Liz and Pam, and are survived by them and their families in London, Australia and Germany.

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The depth of that relationship between John and Pat, who was president of the Dumbarton Inner Wheel, was demonstrated when Pat entered Langcraigs Residential Home.

John dedicated the greater part of each day to being with her there in her final year.

His son, John, who delivered the eulogy at Dow’s funeral service, conducted by the Rev Ian Johnson, in Dumbarton Riverside Parish Church, said: “It’s a remarkable fact that he passed away peacefully exactly six years to the day after her, on 7 November, just after midnight.

“Unbelievably, in those six years he made three extended trips to Australia and to New Zealand, and earlier this year he was considering yet another one.

“It’s unfortunate that he just missed the comet landing – that would have inspired him, especially as he had himself visited the mission control centre in Darmstadt.”

He added: “On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank you all for joining us to pay our respects to a remarkable man, a leader, a friend to many, an outstanding husband, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather.

“Four of his ten grandchildren were unable to travel from Australia, Canada and Germany, respectively, but are thinking of him today. His four great-grandchildren brought him great joy.

“We shall always be grateful that he was able to remain comfortable in his own home all these years and thank the many local people who contributed in their different ways to making that possible.”

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A guard of honour of elders lined the pathway to Riverside Parish Church on 14 November when John Milne Dow was taken to his final committal.

He was cremated at Cardross and the casket containing his ashes was later buried at Dumbarton Cemetery.a]