Obituary: John Mitchell Melvin Smith WS, solicitor

All-round lawyer Jock Smith held office at the heart of the community. Picture: Contributed
All-round lawyer Jock Smith held office at the heart of the community. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 5 July, 1930 in Aberdeen. Died: 13 July, 2016, in Edinburgh, aged 86.

Jock Smith’s decision to centre his career on a small North-east coastal town may have made him somewhat geographically remote but it did not prevent him holding office at the heart of the country’s legal community.

Based in the fishing port of Peterhead, he was a traditional all-round lawyer practising across a range of disciplines, and a prominent local businessman who encouraged the town’s development and fostered community spirit – a professional success by any standards.

Add to that his astute steering of the legal profession through some of its most significant reforms of recent times, while president of the Law Society of Scotland, and it’s clear his expertise was highly valued nationwide.

A skilful negotiator and superb ambassador, he was said to have been instrumental in securing the best possible arrangements for solicitors in the new UK financial services regime enacted in the mid 1980s. It was a period of enormous change that also saw him at the helm when the first advertising rules for Scottish solicitors were introduced and the country’s new Legal Aid board was established.

“He held clear views as to how the profession had to adapt to the demands of modern business while maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards,” said current Law Society president Eilidh Wiseman.

His interest in the law stemmed from his stepfather whom he followed into the profession. His own father, a Borders farmer also known as Jock Smith, had died in a motorbike accident before he was born. His mother Edda returned home to Fraserburgh, where she raised her son in the home of his grandfather, a Doric poet and editor of the Fraserburgh Herald. She remarried a few years later to John Glennie a solicitor in Peterhead where the family then settled.

Young Jock was educated at Dalhousie Castle Prep School and Fettes College and studied law at Edinburgh University before doing his National Service in the Royal Artillery. In his late 20s he left the bright lights of the capital behind to return to the North-east and join his stepfather’s firm Masson and Glennie.

Back in Peterhead he threw himself into community life while building up the legal firm, becoming a partner and Writer to the Signet. He was a founding member and later president of the local Rotary Club and the long-standing secretary of the Peterhead Burns Club – one of the oldest in the world. He was also a director of Alzheimer Scotland for a time, established a business club and encouraged local builders to develop the town and construct new homes, seeing the benefits for the area from the oil boom of the late 1970s and 80s.

Greatly respected in the community, his professional knowledge was also sought after by his fellow lawyers. He was a member of the governing body of the Law Society of Scotland for 15 years, representing Stonehaven, Peterhead and Banff sheriff court districts on its council and was elected president for the year 1987-88.

Beyond work, he had enthusiastically introduced his family to a lifetime love of skiing and they subsequently spent many holidays in Aviemore. He was a keen golfer and an Aberdeen Football Club supporter, taking his sons Mark and Andrew to Gothenburg to see the Dons beat Real Madrid and lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983. He could also be found cheering on his local Peterhead team.

In a busy retirement he and his wife Rion, whom he married in 1958, moved to Edinburgh to be nearer to their rapidly expanding family of grandchildren. He became a temporary sheriff, was involved in the Old Fettesian Association and enjoyed regular outings to Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby.

He is survived by his wife, sons Mark and Andrew, daughter Diana and seven grandchildren.