Obituary: Tom Renwick MBE, farmer and entrepreneur

Tom Renwick'Obit pic'Obituary picture
Tom Renwick'Obit pic'Obituary picture
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Born: 10 June, 1938, in the Yarrow Valley. Died: 25 April, 2015, at Borders General Hospital, near Melrose, aged 76

THE Borders and Scottish farming industry has lost one of its leading lights through the death of Yarrow farmer and entrepreneur Tom Renwick. He was 76.

His expertise in agriculture, notably the breeding of Cheviot and Blackface sheep, was matched by an equally astute business sense which led him to establish the Cardrona village and golf course near Peebles.

The respect with which Tom Renwick was held throughout the Borders and beyond can be gauged by the large number of mourners who attended his memorial service in Peebles Old Parish Church, where the oration was given by Mr Renwick’s life-long friend, John Campbell of Glenrath.

An unstinting work ethic, combined with the foresight to make the most of commercial opportunities, were the building blocks of Tom Renwick’s highly successful farming and business careers – talents that were formally recognised in 2004 when the Queen presented him with an MBE at Holyrood Palace.

Born in 1938 at Riskenhope in the Yarrow Valley, where his father John was shepherd, Tom was only two when his father died of pneumonia. One year later his mother Mary took him and his older sister Sheila to live in a farm cottage at Catslackburn.

In 1944 Tom’s mother married Walter Douglas, the farmer at Catslackburn, and the couple had four children – Muriel, Norman, Oliver and Walter.

After attending Yarrow School, Tom moved on to Selkirk High School. His education was cut short following the death of his stepfather in 1952, and he left school aged 14 to work on the farm and support his mother and siblings.

In 1957 Tom married Sybil Inglis, a fellow member of the Selkirkshire Young Farmers, and the couple went on to have four children – Gordon, Billy, Tommy and Pamela.

With a large family at Catslackburn, Tom decided to leave and was appointed farm manager at the Glen Estate in 1966. Four years later Tom bought Craig Douglas Farm in the Yarrow Valley.

He eventually leased the whole of Glen Estate, including Glen House, and in 1981 purchased Blackhouse Farm, once shepherded by poet and author James Hogg, alias the Ettrick Shepherd. Two years later he took over the lease of Traquair Knowe Farm and he and Sybil moved there.

By this time Tom Renwick’s managerial and executive skills were becoming widely recognised in the farming world. After serving as president of the Selkirk NFU, in 1978 he was appointed president of the Borders Area NFU for Scotland.

He was also a member of the NFU headquarters livestock committee, president of Yarrow Show, a member of the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters Association and a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society.

He served as director and then chairman of livestock auctioneers Lawrie & Symington, and undertook two terms as area director of the Royal Highland Show, as well as being an honorary vice-president, and in 2008 proudly presented his grandson Steven with the Texel Championship.

Rugby was a lifelong passion. A speedy wing, Tom represented Selkirkshire and the South of Scotland at semi-junior level, making his senior debut for Selkirk Rugby Club at the age of 17. He recalled playing in a match against Durham City where he marked Mike Weston, who went on to captain England and tour with the British Lions. A knee injury forced him to curtail his playing days earlier than he would have liked, but he remained one of Selkirk Rugby Club’s most dedicated supporters, taking particular pride in the exploits of his grandson Andrew Renwick, captain of Selkirk’s 1st XV for the past two seasons, and who helped the team win promotion to the Premiership in March with a perfect winning record of played 22, won 22.

He had tremendous enthusiasm for the breeding of Blackface sheep, selling many top pens of females and also seeing Glen, Blackhouse and Williamhope all top Lanark Tup Sale.

He derived equal pleasure from showing and judging sheep, winning numerous trophies at local shows, and being asked to judge no fewer than three times at the Royal Highland Show.

Arguably the biggest legacy of Tom Renwick’s career will be the creation of Cardrona – the Borders’ first new village for 200 years. The golf course, hotel and housing complex was more than ten years in the planning, during which time Tom had to contend with numerous objections, planning knock-backs and economic uncertainty.

His perseverance and unshakable faith in the project eventually triumphed, with the championship golf course, designed by Dave Thomas, opening in 2001, followed soon afterwards by the construction of the first of the village’s 320 homes.

Five years ago, following heart surgery, Tom suffered a stroke. The next ten months were spent in hospital and left him confined to a wheelchair. True to character, he refused to let his new situation impinge on his day-to-day routine, and would regularly be driven by Sybil to inspect livestock on his three sons’ farms.

A month ago Tom travelled to Lanark to see Gordon selling cattle, being delighted to make use of the mart’s lift in order to secure a bird’s eye view of the auction ring.

Away from farming and rugby, Tom’s other interests included football, curling, gardening and a special love of Scottish country dance music.

A family man through and through, he took particular interest and pride in the lives and achievements of his four children, ten grandchildren and his one great-granddaughter.

His 58-year marriage to Sybil was the cornerstone of a happy and successful life, and deepest condolences are extended to her and the family.