Obituary: Tom Crombie, prominent Edinburgh financier and keen outdoorsman

Tom Crombie has died at the age of 70
Tom Crombie has died at the age of 70
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Tom Crombie, prominent figure in Edinburgh’s financial sector. Born: 6 December, 1946. Died: 17 August, 2017 aged 70

Tom Crombie was born in Kirkcaldy, the second of three sons. He was a gifted pupil at the town’s High School, alma mater of former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Both his parents and teachers put pressure on him to study mathematics or physics at university, but Tom was having none of this.

Economics was his own chosen pathway, an ambition informed, according to younger brother, Iain, by a canny Fifer’s notion that “some of the money that passed through the profession was most likely to stick to whoever was working in it!” This was also a decision, of course, that down the line would benefit countless pension-holders and investors.

Tom’s love of the countryside was established early on, a childhood chopping wood and lighting fires followed by spells as a grouse beater and tattie roguer. But his great passions would always remain hill walking, golfing, climbing and fishing. Family and friends also viewed him as a potential Scottish champion at stone-skimming, a talent he refined alongside that of dumping large rocks in any loch or burn he encountered.

At Edinburgh University Tom made friends and contacts he would retain for the rest of his life, adding scuba diving to his list of sports interests. It was at university that he met his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1971. Pat became a teacher and was a pillar of support over their 46 years together.

He began his own investment career at Baillie Gifford in 1970. This was a time when he first started smoking what became his trademark pipe, helping to cultivate a useful appearance of wisdom and dependability that was picked up by Money Observer and similar media outlets. He would commute to work on a moped, complete with an egg-yellow helmet that came into its own when he was sent flying over a car in Edinburgh city centre. Pat immediately insisted that “enough was enough” of this form of transport.

A female colleague recalled his enlightened outlook, being fully comfortable with the idea of women working in the industry as investment managers because “he couldn’t see why bright people wouldn’t do well”. Not necessarily everyone thought this at the time.

Tom moved to the UK desk at Standard Life in 1979. He became friends with David Kirkpatrick, subsequently joining him on a further move to Scottish Equitable in 1982 to develop a modern equity team. They set about recruiting bright new graduates and enjoyed great success, Scot Eq featuring at the top of industry league tables for many years. Along the way Tom developed and enjoyed good business links with Japan and the Asian markets.

The company was taken over by Aegon in 1998 and throughout the rest of his career Tom fulfilled a variety of roles, notably that of Chief Investment Officer. Colleagues recall that he was “hugely knowledgeable but able to cut through the jargon and communicate strategy and market events in simple terms understood by all”. He also wrote a monthly column – Crombie’s Corner – in the investment report provided for advisers. This was widely read and respected due to its invaluable market updates and insights. As much as anything, though, he was considered highly approachable, always making time for colleagues across the organisation.

Whatever the demands of his different jobs, Tom retained a rich hinterland throughout his life. There were many holidays, including lots of walking in Scotland and the Crombie family’s favourite Yorkshire Dales. Together with Pat, he celebrated his daughters’ successes in both academic and sporting arenas. Aileen followed Tom into finance before moving into one of Pat’s great interest areas, history, culture and the arts. Fiona followed Pat into teaching, while proving an outstanding squash player for Scotland.

Retirement was never going to be a quiet option. He returned to Aegon on a part-time basis for several years to assist the investment committee, and was also appointed to industry boards. Until the onset of Parkinson’s, he was a trustee and chairman of the finance and audit committee of Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, and chair of the Craiglockhart Community Council. Never one to waste a moment of the day, he also took up indoor climbing, studied Greek, and played the piano.

Monthly dominoes, cards and malt whisky nights were also enjoyed, and particularly golf at Luffness. He remained a keen supporter of the Scottish Investment Managers’ Walking Group, while celebrating 25 years of joining two friends, including this writer, on treks throughout Scotland and mainland Europe.

These latter excursions afforded a special insight into Tom’s personality. He enjoyed route planning, though if bored would strike out across the most demanding of terrains. This could sometimes prove challenging for his companions, but then he always remained a force of nature. At high altitude in the Pyrenees he delighted in the mountain landscape while his companions could only gasp for air.

Driving remained a passion, one informed for him by a genuine belief in the superiority of his own skills at the wheel. “Toad” was a favourite term for anyone unworthy, in his opinion, of sharing the road with him.

Walking charted the progress of his illness. Hills were replaced by less demanding excursions on the flat, though still delivering an abiding memory of Tom declining assistance to fight unaided to the top of a former railway embankment in Midlothian.

He later stunned guests at his 70th birthday party by somehow forcing himself upright from a chair, then finding just enough voice to thank his family and friends for their attendance. He said that more than anything else he wanted them to enjoy life, and never to beat themselves up over what were essentially only “small things”.

Illness cruelly denied Tom the long and active retirement he should have been granted, but his was a good life. He was fiercely intelligent, competitive, full of vitality and curiosity, and with a dry sense of humour. More than anything, he was also a loving family man and a good friend and colleague. Money Observer got it right all those years ago with its headline: “A safe pair of hands”.

Tom Crombie is survived by his wife Pat, Aileen and husband, Adrian, Fiona and husband Matt, and grandchildren, Eva, Eilidh, Jamie and Isla.