Obituary: Morag McNeill, landlady and Justice of the Peace, who looked after many Rangers starlets

Morag McNeill
Morag McNeill
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Morag McNeill, landlady and Justice of the Peace. Born 2 March 1951. Died 3rd January 2019.

Morag McNeill, who has died aged 67, was a remarkable lady who ­overcame early adversity in life to make notable contributions in various areas.

From 2007 till recently, at her Best Foot Forward guest house in Milngavie, she was landlady for more than 100 Rangers Academy footballer youngsters, for whom she not only provided accommodation but also a home from home.

She acted as surrogate mother, going on to form close, rewarding and lifelong relationships with many and their friends and families. She was an extremely highly regarded and dedicated Childrens’ ­Panel member in West ­Dunbartonshire from 1997, who brought integrity, much life experience and compassion to the task, her uppermost concern always being the welfare of the children.

From 2010 till 2017 she was a Justice of the Peace in Glasgow, who enjoyed an excellent reputation for her professionalism and her abiding concern for always “getting it right”. Last, but certainly not least, she was an extremely capable and much loved mother, grandmother and wife around whom family life revolved.

Born Morag Skinner Ballantyne Proctor in Helensburgh, she was brought up by parents Joseph and Elizabeth along with elder brothers Kenny and Bobby in Bonhill.

Times were hard then for the family and household budgeting was a challenge. By the time Morag was 11 her father had died and by age 13 her mother was also dead. These were devastating blows and teenage years were a struggle.

Having attended Bonhill ­primary school she went on to Vale of Leven Academy, after which she secured employment at the Westclox factory in the Vale of Leven Industrial Estate for a period of about two years doing a variety of jobs.

Following a shortlived ­marriage during which she had a daughter Caroline, the couple divorced but she maintained a lifelong close supportive relationship with her ­parents-in-law, Mr and Mrs Main. She met future husband Lachlan McNeill in the mid 1970s while both were working at Glasgow solicitors, Bird, Semple, Crawford and ­Herron where she was employed in the cashroom and he was completing his legal apprenticeship.

They were married in ­February 1979 in Bishopbriggs where they set up home and went on to enjoy almost 40 happy and fulfilling years together. A year later daughter Kirsty was born and together with Caroline the family unit was complete, continuing to live in Bishopbriggs until ­moving in 1986 to Milngavie.

Morag also worked with another Glasgow firm of solicitors in the mid 1980s, joining Bready and Co. in Dumbarton Road where she remained for almost 20 years. Principally a criminal law practice, she began as cashier before becoming the office manager and was occasionally engaged in taking statements from witnesses, experience that would later serve her well.

Meanwhile, husband Lachlan’s career was undergoing a change of direction as he began training for the inevitable uncertainty of a career at the Scottish Bar as an ­advocate. For some time Morag had been contemplating starting a bed and breakfast ­business and, given family circumstances combined with the increasing popularity of the nearby West Highland Way, the time was apt to do so and Best Foot Forward began. Business went well and in 2003 the opportunity arose to buy a larger house, Westfield, which was also the ­family home.

This offered six letting rooms which proved very popular with walkers and others ­working temporarily in the area. When it became known in 2007 that Rangers were looking for accomodation for academy players at their nearby training base at then Murray Park, ­Morag met with Sandy Jardine, then head of the ­academy, who was impressed both by ­Morag and the ­facilities available, leading to an agreement being reached which endured till recently.

This was a mutually ­successful operation as, given her warm and caring nature, she endeared herself to her many charges who derived much affection and support from her as well as the highest standard of care.

If necessary she also kept them in line with appropriate ‘direction’, but always ­constructively. It was a role she thoroughly enjoyed in which her success was reflected in the many lasting relationships formed with players, including Danny Wilson whose wedding she attended in 2016, Zak Rudden, currently with Falkirk, who dedicated a goal to her recently and Kane Hemmings, now in ­England. Her contribution was ­enormously appreciated by Rangers.

Doubtless her own early experience fed into her ­valuable input into these youngsters’ lives as it certainly did in her decision to become a Childrens’ ­Panel ­member. Although living in East ­Dunbartonshire, she wanted to serve in West ­Dunbartonshire, where she had been brought up in ­Bonhill.

Her mantra was that each child mattered and she enjoyed a great rapport with them and their families. She was passionate in her desire for children to be given the opportunities they deserved and was delighted if over the years their circumstances improved and deeply disappointed if not. One accolade described her as “a great example of what a panel member should be like”.

Following a restructuring of the justice system, she was one of the first batch of new ­Justices of the Peace to be trained and appointed in Glasgow in 2010.

For the next seven years she sat regularly, earning much respect and admiration for her professionalism and capable, conscientious discharge of her duties – one tribute highlighting “the empathy, wisdom and humour” she brought to it.

A long standing member of the SNP, her main interest ­outwith family was the ­theatre. The large turnout at her funeral bore testimony to the affection and high regard in which she was held by people from different walks of life.

She is survived by her ­husband, brother Bobby, daughters and grandchildren Calum and Finlay.

JACK DAVIDSON