Obituary: Bob Elliot MBE MA

High school teacher, rugby enthusiast, tweed designer and tennis coach

Bob Elliot, MBE MA, school teacher and tennis coach. Picture: contributed
Bob Elliot, MBE MA, school teacher and tennis coach. Picture: contributed

Bob Elliot, MBE MA, school teacher and tennis coach.

Born: 29 February, 1920, Ashkirktown.

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Died: 19 January, 2016, Borders General Hospital

Robert Young Scott Elliot was a leap year baby, born in Ashkirktown, Selkirkshire on 29 February, 1920.

His parents, John and Eliza (nee Irving), were married outdoors in April 1910, beside the Kershope Burn, which runs on the border between Scotland and England. They had four children. Bob was the youngest.

His father’s main occupation was shepherding livestock: not an easy way to make ends meet. Bob recounted a time when his father was not earning a wage and the family’s welfare was entirely dependent upon the price received for a calf, his only asset.

The family moved to nearby Hawick. Prospects were thought to be much better there, and Bob received his formal education at Wilton Primary and Hawick High Schools.

Leaving school in 1935, Bob found employment with Wilson & Glenny Ltd as an apprentice tweed designer. He soon thrived and went on to win the Robert Noble gold medal for tweed manufacture and a City and Guilds Final Technological exam medal for worsted weaving.

During the Second World War, Bob served with the Royal Air Force, becoming an aero engine instructor at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. He spent most of the war there, feeling grateful he was spared while others he knew served overseas, sometimes never coming home. While in South Wales he played tennis against one of Richard Burton’s brothers, and lined up at centre to play rugby union against teams from Cardiff and Bristol that included internationalists and British Lions.

In October 1946, Bob, with a glowing reference from his Commanding Officer, returned to Hawick better qualified than he had been when he left. At first he resumed employment as a tweed designer, but his wartime experience inspired him to become a teacher. He secured a place at the University of Edinburgh in 1948, gaining a Master of Arts degree. He followed this with two terms at Moray House teacher training college. Bob became a mathematics teacher at Hawick High School in 1952, where he spent 30 years — save for a two-year spell at Jedburgh Grammar School — teaching Hawick pupils the value of maths and arithmetic (and briefly history). When he retired in August 1982, he did so as assistant headteacher at the school.

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While teaching, Bob also indulged his love of sport by coaching high school rugby, reminiscing later that his happiest teaching experience may have been the 15-year period he assisted the progress of Hawick High’s Third Year rugby team. Among the many pupils to benefit from Bob’s activities and guidance during that time were future Hawick RFC stalwarts Harry Whitaker, Robbie Welsh, Ian Barnes and Charlie Oliver. He was also a selector for the South of Scotland schoolboys’ rugby teams and often travelled with them when they played fixtures against other districts.

But it was his love of tennis that was to have the biggest impact on his life. Following his service in the RAF, Bob spent much of his leisure time playing tennis on the public courts at Wilton Lodge Park in Hawick. It was there, in 1948, that he first met Madge Robson, whom he married in 1952. Together they helped establish Wilton Park Lawn Tennis Club and from the early 1950s Bob served the fledgling club in various roles, including committee member, match secretary and president. Over the years, he and Madge regularly represented Wilton Park LTC in singles and doubles fixtures while simultaneously developing their interest in coaching tennis.

Bob and Madge’s coaching ambitions gained encouragement in December 1961 when the Scottish Lawn Tennis Association (now Tennis Scotland) appointed its first National Coach, Bill Moss. When Moss subsequently established training courses for prospective coaches, Bob qualified as an intermediate coach while Madge attained an elementary coaching award.

Beginning in 1973, the SLTA promoted “grass roots” tennis lessons for children and Bob coached these sessions at Wilton Park and other Border clubs. When an indoor games hall opened at Hawick High School, Bob, with Madge, seized the opportunity to coach tennis to youngsters throughout the winter months as well. It was their dedication to coaching juniors for over 30 years that yielded a string of successful club, county and national-level players, as well as bringing many seasons of success to Wilton Park Tennis Club.

In recognition of their dedication and wide-ranging contributions, Bob and Madge were awarded MBEs in 1999. This followed Special Awards from the SLTA in 1991 and 1999 for major contributions and services to tennis, and a Paul Harris Fellowship Award in 1997.

In July 2011, Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Despite a slow deterioration of his physical capabilities, Bob maintained a razor-sharp mind until the week before he died, when he suffered a mild stroke. He never lost his sense of humour, his humility, his love of Hawick, his faith (Bob served as an elder at Cavers and Kirkton Parish Church from 1952 until 2014), or his wide-ranging interests in sport, mathematics, politics, history, family and people in general. With almost a century of life experience, there was never a shortage of conversation with Bob and he had sage advice for anyone who chose to share with him their problems.

Bob was approaching his “24th birthday” when he died on 19 January. He would have been 96 years old today. He is survived by his wife, Madge, and their sons, Kim and Sean.

Robbie Dye