THE business and sporting communities of the Scottish Borders have lost one of their leading lights following the death on 18 February of Roland (Roly) Brett. He was 77.
As a descendant of the famous Ballantyne clan, whose links to the Scottish woollen trade can be traced back to the mid-17th century, Mr Brett upheld the family tradition by carving out a successful career in the fast-changing Borders textile industry.
The son of an army officer, Lt Col Denis Brett, and his wife Katherine (née Ballantyne), Denis Roland Brett was born in 1942 in Dehri Dun, India, where his father was serving with the Leicestershire Regiment.
At the age of seven he was sent to Blairmore preparatory school in Aberdeenshire, then on to Haileybury School in Hertfordshire. There, Roly’s cricketing talents were quickly spotted and as a member of the school’s 1st XI he had the distinction of hitting a six into the stands at Lord’s in the annual fixture against Cheltenham.
On leaving school he was offered an apprenticeship by his uncle, David Ballantyne, in the family-run Henry Ballantyne & Sons mill at Walkerburn. It afforded him an invaluable insight into the business, supplemented by day release classes at the nearby Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels.
Additional work placements were undertaken at Ballantyne Sportswear’s Caerlee Mills in Innerleithen and at another family-run mill in Dalkeith. By his mid-20s Roly had been appointed mill manager at Ballantyne’s March Street Mills in Peebles.
In 1970 the Peebles operation was taken over by Dawson (Holdings) Ltd – later to become Dawson International plc – before a restructuring of the Dawson empire in the mid-80s saw Robert Noble Ltd take over as the new management company at March Street Mills.
By now Mr Brett had risen to become the firm’s production director, and a further change of ownership came in the late 1990s when Robert Noble was sold to Yorkshire-based textile company Moorhouse & Brook. Shortly afterwards Robert Noble’s new managing director resigned, and Mr Brett was appointed his successor, remaining in post with the company until his retiral in 2007 at the age of 65.
Richard Ryley, a sales director with Robert Noble who worked alongside Mr Brett for 17 years, described him as a great colleague and incredibly approachable. “He was respected and well-liked not only by workers at the mill, but by associates in the textile trade throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.
“He possessed great charm, but never shied away from making big or tough decisions. He was a wonderful mentor, and I will always be grateful for his sound advice and the support he willingly gave to myself and to all members of staff.”
In 2001 he was appointed Deacon of the Scottish Borders Manufacturers’ Corporation, later serving as a Walkerburn community councillor, and for a time was a director of Live Borders, the culture, sport and leisure trust for the Scottish Borders.
However, without a doubt the most important event in Roly Brett’s life was his marriage to Betty Taylor, at that time working as an auditor with Edinburgh firm Rolleston Somerville. They first met by chance, as Roly’s cousin Alastair happened to be going out with Betty’s flatmate Stroma.
Love quickly blossomed and Roly and Betty were married in Strathdon Church, Aberdeenshire, on 11 September, 1965. After honeymooning in Perthshire, the couple set up home in a rented cottage at Cardrona, then at Kaimend, Innerleithen, before a final move in 1976 to the family home at Caberston House, Walkerburn.
The couple’s four sons – Chris, Jeremy, Mike and Alex – were all schooled locally and shared their father’s passion for sport and motor cars. Family life meant everything to Roly, with Betty and the boys always at the centre of his life.
His exploits on the cricket field matched his business achievements. A member of the England Schools side that included future test stars Mike Brearley and Richard Hobbs, the young all-rounder turned down a county contract with Lancashire and opted instead to play his cricket north of the Border.
An elegant batsman and skilful off-spin bowler, Roly’s cricket career included spells with the Dunfermline, Kelso and Selkirk clubs. He captained Selkirk on their ground-breaking tour to Barbados in 1981 and the following year led the Souters to a Border League & Border Knock-out Cup double.
Once his playing days were over, Roly qualified as a cricket coach, helping steer the South of Scotland U-16 side to its first Scottish Championship.
A familiar adversary during his cricketing career was Gala wicketkeeper Ronnie Murray. “Roly was a breath of fresh air when he first arrived on the Border scene,” said Ronnie. “He was an excellent all-rounder, a true sportsman and also great fun to be with.
“He played in a very good Kelso team that included players like John Rutherford and Michael Taylor before helping inspire Selkirk to a string of successes in the 1980s. You could always depend on Roly to anchor an innings while he had a knack of picking up quick wickets when he came on to bowl.”
Golf was another sport at which he excelled, twice winning the Woollen Merchants & Manufacturers Cup, competed for annually at Sunningdale. The ornate trophy is kept on display at the British Golf Museum in St Andrews.
As well as being a member of Peebles Golf Club, he also held memberships with Luffness Golf Club in East Lothian and Port Salon Golf Club in Donegal, close to Rathmullan, where his father moved to after retiring from the army.
An interest in classic cars led to the ownership of a number of models being kept at Walkerburn over the years, including a vintage Daimler, Porsche and Mercedes 500SL.
In 2010 Mr Brett was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, a progressive condition affecting behaviour, personality and speech.
As the disease began to take its inevitable toll, the love and support shown by Betty, members of his family and close friends (especially Jo and Nick Juett), in addition to the kindness and understanding shown by staff in the BGH’s Cauldshiels Ward and at Murray House, Kelso, ensured Roly received the best possible care in the final months.
Mr Brett is survived by Betty and their four sons, his sister Jo, brother Will, daughters-in-law Denise, Shona, Debbie and Mumba, and by eight grandchildren.
A service of thanksgiving for Roly Brett’s life will be held in the Borders Crematorium, Melrose, tomorrow at 1pm.