Obituary: Margie Moffat OBE, entrepreneur

BORN: 8 August, 1922, in Ayrshire. Died: 25 October, 2014, in Ayrshire, aged 92.
Driving force behind Scotlands first major travel business and a generous trust fund. Picture: ContributedDriving force behind Scotlands first major travel business and a generous trust fund. Picture: Contributed
Driving force behind Scotlands first major travel business and a generous trust fund. Picture: Contributed

Margie Moffat was one of Scotland’s most generous benefactors. She and her husband Jim founded the hugely successful travel agency AT Mays and were acknowledged as shrewd and able entrepreneurs. They built up the firm with a keen eye on commercial opportunities and financial prudence. From a single office in Saltcoats in 1955 – originally called All Travel – the firm became one of the largest travel agencies in the UK, expanding to become the third largest in the UK.

In 1988 the Moffat family sold out to the Royal Bank of Scotland and with a bequest from Jim’s estate the family set up the Moffat Charitable Trust.

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In addition, Margie made a substantial donation to the trust in 2007. One of its great projects was the Moffat Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University, which is now recognised as an influential voice in the tourist industry. More than a million students have greatly benefited from Margie’s foresight and generosity.

The first beneficiary of Margie’s 2007 donation was the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Scotland which received £1 million. The acting dean of the Glasgow Business School, Professor John Lennon, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Margie Moffat was a pathfinder for women in travel and a critical part of the success of the growth of AT Mays along with her late husband.

“She helped the business grow at a phenomenal rate and the stable of AT Mays was the starting point for so many careers in travel and tourism.”

Margie had always preferred a quiet life in Ayrshire – with a fine view over the sea to the Isle of Arran – and shunned publicity. When asked in 2007 about the donation to the trust, she said: “It’s more money than I can spend. I can’t even spend the interest. It’s good to make use of it and I think Jim would have approved.”

Margie Moffat met her husband when they were both pupils at Ardrossan Academy in the late 1930s. He was a member of the 1st XV and they went out for a couple of years before the war. He served in the RAF and was posted to the accounts department within the RAF at Ardrossan.

They married in 1944 but even with two children to look after Margie never countenanced not working. The Moffats worked in close harmony and by their canny stewardship of affairs the company prospered: both were innovators and keen to explore new tourist trends.

Margie was the person who had the idea to create AT Mays and it was her enthusiasm and energy that got the business established. Her husband worked for some years in a bank and ran a pet shop, All Pets. He was a lover of animals and an authority on budgies.

The idea to start a travel agency came to them by chance when Jim had been asked to judge a bird show in the US. They were given out of date brochures by a local company: “Goodness me,” said Margie, immediately spotting an opportunity.

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Their agency proved successful from the outset and benefited from the charter flights run by Freddie Laker to Spain. Within a couple of years AT Mays was operating throughout Scotland and, by 1982, had offices across the UK.

Margie ran the firm’s accounts department and was a company director so her responsibilities were considerable. She had the knack of being a successful businesswoman and a devoted mother. “I’d cook about five meals at the weekend and then heat them up at home each night,” She once recalled.

Margie loved the buzz generated in a busy office and being surrounded by youngsters and gossip. “When I retired that’s what I missed most of all. They kept me young.”

Her son Dr Jamie Moffat said in his eulogy: “Mum was the controlling force as Dad wished to expand the business. She slowed down the process to a level where the team could continue to maintain the high standards of service our customers were expecting.”

In 1988 the family accepted RBS equity in the takeover. When the shares reached a peak of £6 in 2007 the family fortunes were worth around £100 million. But disaster struck in 2008 with the demise of RBS and the shares slumped.

Over the years the trust has given generously to numerous Scottish institutions including the National Museums of Scotland, Cancer UK, Scottish Ballet and many local Ayrshire events such as Scottish Music’s Hit The Road, the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle, the Ayrshire Hospice and the Scarecrow Festival.

Professor Lennon added: “Mrs Moffat’s active role in the trust over 16 years was instrumental in the development of a range of projects from the Craft town development of West Kilbride to the support of the Moffat Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University.

“Indeed, the trust has helped over 160 young people via scholarship grants since 1999 and constitutes the largest such programme in the European Union. Those scholars that have gone forward with careers in the sector are a testament to Mrs Moffat’s generosity and vision for a vital sector of Scotland’s economy.”

Margie Moffat’s husband died in 1998. She was awarded an OBE in the 2010 and is survived by their son. A daughter predeceased her.