Obituary: Major John W Stephenson BEM, pharmacist and local politician

Major John W Stephenson BEM: Local politician who was an ace on the golf course and had a passion for horses
Major John W Stephenson BEM: Local politician who was an ace on the golf course and had a passion for horses
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Born: 15 August, 1929, in County Wicklow. Died: 13 September, 2014, at Borders General Hospital, aged 85

John Stephenson went from having to work as a golf caddie as a child to being a successful local politician who owned several racehorses. He was born in Greystones in County Wicklow, a small village just south of Dublin. He was the eldest son of Mary and Patrick in a family of nine children, with four sisters and four brothers.

As the eldest son of a large family he had to become a wage earner at an early age and became a golf caddie at the age of five.

He decided to join the army and, concealing his true age, signed up to the Irish army at the age of 15. He then enlisted in the British Army in 1948 and served in the Royal Army Service Corps until 1951 and then in the Royal Army Pay Corps until 1984. He rose to the rank of Major in the Pay Corps, serving in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Gulf States and Germany.

He had the good fortune to visit Nepal as Gurkha pension officer, to set up the Gurkha pension scheme.

In 1963 he was awarded a BEM by the Queen for meritorious service for his work on the installation of a research and development costing system at the fighting vehicles research and development establishment Chobham.

He was also a keen sportsman in the army, playing rugby and successfully taking part in the English cross country championships.

His love for golf dated back to his early life as a caddie with his brothers at the local Delgany golf club and continued throughout his entire life. He had many golf achievements at many clubs across the world, most recently at Gullane, Goswick and Dunbar. He took great enjoyment in teaching his five children and friends to play.

He got a hole in one 18 times – something of which his family is very proud.

Recently, at a ripe old age of 82, he reached the final of the Ladies Cup at Gullane Golf Club from a field of 128 players.

He played to a very high standard and for many years played off a handicap of 1, and even in his late 70s played off a single figure handicap.

In 1980 John and his wife Christine purchased their first retail pharmacy business in Dunbar High Street.

John retired early from the army to establish the pharmacy business and at that time it was suggested that he should stand as a Conservative candidate in the East Lothian District Council election in 1984. His success in the polls marked the beginning of a long career in public service.

He was very passionate about many issues, especially healthcare and education.

John Stephenson served as a District Councillor in East Lothian from 1984-1988, representing the Dunbar ward. He met the Queen at the opening of Lammermuir House on 30 July, 1986 when he introduced Dunbar’s oldest resident, Miss Isa Grahame, to Her Majesty. Miss Grahame was not a resident but had been invited to the ceremony.

He served as a Lothian regional councillor, representing the Traprain ward from 1986-94. A proud moment in his career was the opening of the sewage works at Belhaven in 1993.

During his second term on the regional council he was leader of the Conservative Group. During this period he met many influential political figures and over the years met five prime ministers; only last year he and Christine were invited to meet David Cameron at Downing Street.

In 1998 he and Christine decided to retire and they moved to Berwick on Tweed where John continued his involvement in local affairs. He was appointed Sheriff of Berwick in 2004/5.

He was leader of what was then Berwick Borough Council from 2005-7. He was elected to the new Berwick Town Council in May 2013 and was appointed chair of the Finances and Resources Committee and then deputy mayor in 2014.

He continued to serve in this office until his death.

John met Christine in Edinburgh in 1955 when he was stationed at Edinburgh Castle. Christine joined him the following year in Singapore for the start of their 57 years of marriage.

They were to have five children: Sean, Moira, James, Christopher and Claire, and in due course 11 grandchildren. John was devoted to and proud of his family. John also had a passion for horse-racing which began when he was in the Irish army stationed beside the Curragh, and this continued throughout his life.

He had long wanted to have a horse of his own, and this objective was finally achieved in the late 1980s when he acquired a horse and named it Traprain Law after the hill on the outskirts of Haddington, which also gave its name to his regional council seat.

Traprain Law was placed with the famous Scottish trainer Ken Oliver. It won four races in John’s Irish colours of green, red and gold. At the time of his death John had seven race horses.

John had a competitive drive, and a goal to ensure he continued to better himself or to learn something new every day.

He achieved so much throughout his 85 years and devoted so much of his time and talent to public service. This was summed up by the Mayor of Berwick, Isabel Hunter, who could also be speaking for his many friends when she said: “We will miss his wise words, experience and humour and his conscientious attention to detail.”