Obituary: Marshall Napier, businessman and charity worker.
Marshall Napier was a much respected and admired businessman in Edinburgh who contributed generously with his time and boundless energy to many aspects of life in the capital. He was well known through his professional career with John Smith & Co but gained a wider respect through his love of sailing, curling and his work for the Seagull Trust. His commitment to all these projects, and to his family, saw no bounds and gained him the reputation for courtesy, honesty and a gentleman with a generous spirit.
Such qualities, the Rev Tom Cuthell said at Napier’s funeral, were much enhanced by his, “wry, pawky, even quirky, sense of humour”.
Marshall Lindsay Napier was one of the four children of Samuel and Marion Napier. He grew up initially at Kilgreggan and attended Glasgow Academy but his studies were interrupted by the war and from 1940 he was a pupil at Greenock Academy. On leaving school Napier went to the Royal College in Glasgow and studied textiles and needlework, then joined the international textile giant Paton and Baldwins in Alloa.
There he furthered his knowledge of the making of yarn and gained further invaluable experience by spending two years in Selfridges in London. He worked on the shop floor – in the trouser department and on the needlework counter – before working in the wages department.
He returned to the family firm of John Smith, which owned shops trading in woollen goods. Over the years the company became better known as a property investment company centred in Edinburgh’s West End.
One of Napier’s abiding passions was the Seagull Trust. The charity was founded in 1978 and provides free cruises on Scotland’s canals for people with special needs. The trust now caters for more than 25,000 passengers a year. Napier’s contribution to the trust’s work was recognised in 2007 when his name was added to their Roll of Honour.
He ran the Thursday afternoon cruises and David Mieras, a colleague on the trust, recalls his work with a special pleasure.
“Marshall worked for over 30 years with Seagull. He was chairman of the organisation at the Ratho office, which controlled the cruises on the Union Canal. When he retired he continued to serve on an advisory panel.
“Marshall was full of vitality. He didn’t walk: he bounced along. I remember him always with a smile – the days were just not long enough for Marshall.”
His other interests included rugby, yachting and curling. When he was working in London Napier played for Saracens and the store’s own team – in Glasgow he turned out for Greenock Wanderers. He was also an enthusiastic member of the Boswall Curling Club.
For many years Napier was a steward at Murrayfield on international days and much enjoyed welcoming friends back to his house – Iskareen (named after one of his Dragon yachts) at nearby Cumlodden Avenue.
His other lifelong passion was sailing, which dated from his youth on the Clyde and then on the Forth. He became a noted member of the Royal Forth Yacht Club (RFYC) and in 1976 skippered one of the Scottish boats – his own Mighty Mo – that competed in three international sailing matches against the US in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
Napier won several prestigious sailing events – notably the North Sea Championships in San Franscisco – and served as an international judge and at many regattas including the West Highland Week.
Napier was appointed the RFYC’s Commodore and Admiral – posts he fulfilled with pride and energy.
In his eulogy at Napier’s funeral, the Rev Cuthell (a longtime associate with the RFYC) said: “While Marshall was fiercely competitive and certainly took no prisoners, he was always scrupulously fair. Moreover, he inspired considerable loyalty among those who cruised with him.”
It was a passion to which Napier introduced his grandchildren, often collecting them from school and whisking them off for a spin in his boat.
Rob Cowie knew Napier for many years and remembers him with a special warmth. He told The Scotsman yesterday: “Marshall would take on humble jobs without need for recognition – and always worked to defuse personal rivalries among his fellows, caring more for the greater good.
“He was a delightful man – excellent company, loyal to his clubs, his friends, devoted to his family and held in enormous affection and respect by all who knew him.”
He did not enjoy the best of health in his later years and seven years ago, his beloved wife Dorothy was diagnosed with dementia. Napier supported and cared for her with a personal and devoted charm. Napier and Dorothy had met as children on the ferry to Greenock Academy. They married in 1953 and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters.