Obituary: Bill Anderson MBE, Scotland’s greatest heavyweight Highland Games star

editorial image
Share this article
0
Have your say

William Smith Anderson MBE, Highland Games athlete. Born: 6 October 1937 in Bucksburn, Aberdeen. Died: 12 August 2019, aged 81.

Bill Anderson, who has died aged 81, was Scotland’s greatest ever Highland Games heavyweight athlete and a hugely admired and respected Games’ figurehead. In an incomparable honour-laden career spanning more than 30 years, he won championships by the barrowload at home and abroad, set innumerable records and lifted the standard of traditional heavy events to unprecedented levels.

His spectacular performances, especially with hammer and caber, enthused crowds, which he attracted in great numbers, raising the profile of the Games across the board. A determined but gracious competitor who always conducted himself well and for whom the integrity of the Games was paramount, his modest manner, innate decency, quiet sense of humour, companionable nature and sportsmanship endeared him to all.

Career highlights included winning the highly prestigious Scottish heavyweight championship at Crieff 18 times, including two shared with Arthur Rowe, his final success coming in 1987 when two months short of his 50th birthday. He also claimed several British, European, Canadian, American and World heavyweight titles and numerous World Caber Tossing Championships. He won countless individual Games’ championships including an outstanding 23 successes at Aboyne and about 15 at Braemar, where the Queen regularly presented him with trophies. Latterly his us commitments clashed with Braemar, denying him added success there. During his 31 years on the circuit, competing at venues from Halkirk in Caithness to Greenlaw in the Borders, he set records everywhere.

Two deserve special mention. In July 1969, at Lochearnhead Games, he became the first to throw the 16lb Scots [wooden shafted] hammer over 150 feet with a throw of 151’ 2”, a feat particularly remarkable for having occurred on his ninth consecutive day’s competition, the previous day being in Caithness. A month later at Crieff he set a 22lb Scots hammer record of 123’5” which stands today, a magnificent effort.

The record had belonged to Englishman Arthur Rowe, with whom Bill shared many engrossing duels and whom he acknowledged as his greatest rival for a decade in the 1960s and early 1970s. Their contests lit up arenas with the added spice of Rowe having been an Olympic shot putter from south of the Border. His presence undoubtedly drove Bill on to greater heights.

In addition to the home circuit, Bill competed abroad 49 times, including several trips to America, Canada, Australia and Dubai. In North America he won their national titles several times, while in Australia he clinched the World Championship in 1981.Popular everywhere, he was especially so in California where, according to colleague Grant Anderson, he was “revered”.

Other countries visited included France, Nigeria, ­Sweden, the Bahamas, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, where he had a memorable tussle with a Sumo wrestler.

In 1977, he received an MBE for services to Highland Games and in 2007 was inducted into the ­Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, the only Games athlete ever recognised.

William Smith Anderson was born at Greenferns Farm, Bucksburn, Aberdeen, to John and Jeanie nee Parley, the sixth of nine sons with two sisters. He attended Bucksburn Primary School and Bankhead Academy, where he played in the football team. As a youngster he helped on the farm and after leaving school worked full time on others nearby, which developed his powerful physique. His father had dabbled in heavy events and encouraging Bill to practise with a Scots hammer at home.

He became interested in Highland Games, which at the time were widespread in Aberdeenshire and ingrained in the local culture. After persuasion by a brother, he entered Alford Games in 1956 as a complete novice and surprised himself by winning £9 in four events against quality opposition.

That was the launchpad of an outstanding career whose last competitive appearance was in Sydney, Australia, in 1988. In his area there was no tradition of amateur athletics then, whereas there was a strong one of professional Games, “farmyard heavies” as they were known. Despite being self coached with only rudimentary training, Geoff Capes thought him capable, if he had been amateur, of ­winning a medal at the Olympics, such was his quality.

Soon after Alford he did National Service with the Cameron Highlanders, mostly in Aden, where he distinguished himself, winning the Command heavyweight boxing and athletics championships. After demob he returned to farm work and building his reputation at the Games. In 1959 he won his first Scottish title, as well as his first championships at Aboyne and Braemar.

By now he had been courting Frances Walker for some time, having met her at a dance at Kingswells Village Hall near her home. The couple were married in 1960 at Kingswells Church, which he said “was the best thing I ever did”.

They enjoyed 59 happy years together, during which they had four children, Rosemary, Kenneth, Mark and Craig. They travelled together on some foreign trips, especially to America and Australia, and were keen and popular participants in Old Time Dancing throughout the north east.

Bill moved into the building industry as a concrete layer for several local companies before working part time in retirement in a national hardware store in Aberdeen. After competing, he was a highly respected judge at Braemar, Aboyne, Crieff and Aberdeen Games, where his presence added to the sense of occasion.

A number of his trophies are on display at the new Braemar Gathering Centre, where he was invited to view them ­prior to its recent opening.

Understandably dubbed ‘The King of the Heavies,’ his feats ensure his richly deserved place of honour atop the pantheon of the greats and his personal qualities burnish that accolade. A tribute from American Walter Carruthers on Bill’s final Games there in 1986 captures his impact,- “Your career in Scottish athletics will live in the minds and hearts of all who had the pleasure of competing on the same field. You are truly the Grand Gentleman of the Games.”

Bill is survived by his wife, children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

JACK DAVIDSON