Obituary:Keith Ferguson, MA LLB DPA, public service lawyer

Keith Ferguson: Public service lawyer who helped the new community of Glenrothes fulfil its potential
Keith Ferguson: Public service lawyer who helped the new community of Glenrothes fulfil its potential
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Born: 18 August, 1928, in Dundee. Died: 22 January, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 85

Keith Ferguson was born in Dundee but, after a peripatetic few years following his father’s occupation as an optician, spent most of his boyhood years in Aberdeen. He was schooled at Robert Gordon’s College and completed both his arts and law degrees at university there. To his last days he retained a trace of a North-east accent, which grew richer whenever he spoke to his fellow Doric “emigrés”.

He undertook National Service before his law degree. His professor, TB Smith, wanted him to continue his studies at Oxford, but by then he was keen to start earning a living. He began his professional career at the Aberdeen firm of Gray and Connachie. One of his early court successes was securing a victory for a farmer’s wife who had bought hens which, he was able to prove, were “a’ burnt oot”.

However, a job opportunity at the Burgh of Buckhaven and Methil meant a move there in 1953, where he served as depute and then town clerk. Buckhaven and Methil was a tough mining community, and his employers and neighbours were almost exclusively miners with little time for airs and graces. They found none in Keith Ferguson, and many firm friendships were made that lasted throughout his life.

In 1962 he took up the post of secretary and legal adviser (latterly director of administration and legal services) at Glenrothes Development Corporation, and for the next 20 years, until he retired due to ill-health, he was a lynchpin of the administration of the New Town during its most rapid and exciting period of expansion.

He joined the corporation just as the closure of the Rothes Colliery forced a radical rethink of the fledgling community’s future, with a largely mining-based settlement replaced by a bigger, more ambitious plan for a town of 55,000 built around light industry and white collar employment.

He was a key player in the often tortuous negotiations with the then Scottish Office over funding for new housing developments, as well as the deals which attracted many overseas companies to invest in the growing economic success of the town.

Like all the best public service lawyers, Keith Ferguson acted as an enabler, telling fellow senior officials how things could be done rather than what they couldn’t do. In moments of crisis such as the Cadco debacle, in which fraudsters used central government grants to set up piggeries in Glenrothes and then diverted the funding offshore, he was instrumental in guiding the corporation with a steady hand through the inevitable search for people to blame.

He also took his social responsibilities as a chief official of the corporation seriously, living in the town he was helping to develop, and along with his wife, fostering clubs and societies to help grow the community. One particular interest was the Glens, for which he was instrumental in their formation as a Junior Football Club in 1964.

Following a triple heart bypass in 1983, he became secretary to the Commission for Local Authority Accounts, at which he quickly established himself again as a wise, steady pair of hands who could be relied upon to give sensible and objective counsel. Although he found the commuting to Edinburgh somewhat wearisome, he enjoyed the challenge of working with people who were his intellectual equals.

Outwith the work context, he was a keen sportsman inasmuch as his lifelong heart problems allowed him to be. He played water polo and dived for his school and university. He played golf up until his late seventies, and swam two or three times a week until his final illness.

A long-suffering follower of Aberdeen Football Club, he had also played cricket for his regiment during National Service, opening the bowling for his team – a not inconsiderable feat given the unit’s preponderance of Oxbridge Englishmen. He was an enthusiastic amateur violinist, with a particular fondness for Scots fiddle music.

Keith’s other passion was writing, in all its forms. Three books about Glenrothes and its history were published. His book, An Introduction to Local Government in Scotland, was for many years the primer for lawyers either entering that branch of the profession, or looking to act as its advisers.

He also contributed to the public health section of the Stair Memorial Encyclopedia of Scots Law, as well as numerous short stories and articles. His last publication was a short story, Bonnet Over the Snow, in the Scottish Book Trust’s anthology Scottish Family Legends. He also read his story aloud on BBC Radio.

Above all else, he was a committed family man. He was married to his university sweetheart Jean until her death in November 2011. He cared for her at home during her long decline from Alzheimer’s, patiently and uncomplainingly looking after her despite his own increasing health problems.

He was a devoted father to Stuart, Carole and Andrew, acting as a constant source of wisdom, kindness, and where necessary financial support to all of them and their own children. He was a rock in times of crisis, but at all times a gentle, non- judgmental friend to all the family.

Keith Ferguson was an exceedingly modest man. Aside from his professional career – which in many other cases would have led to recognition in the Honours List, a tradition he (probably too openly) despised, he contributed energy and practical assistance to many projects without once seeking recognition for himself.

Amongst these were, latterly, the Glenrothes Heritage Centre, and the cause of Scottish independence (although at one time a member of the Liberal Democrats, his heart lay with the SNP and he joined the party on moving back to Glenrothes from Lundin Links).

However, he was never one to push his own political or moral views on to other people, and most who knew him will only have done so as a kind, cheerful man of impeccable manners, who even in his 86th year was more interested in other people and their doings than anything he himself might currently be troubled by.

One of his last acts was to approve the proof copy of his account of the life story of Charles Leslie Anderson, his father-in-law, which focused on the latter’s service in the Gordon Highlanders during the First World War.

Keith Ferguson will be sorely missed, not just by family and friends, but anyone who knew him for his many achievements.