For generations of farmers and those in the ancillary industries, Bob Gregor was Mr Young Farmer. In 1952 he was appointed to the post of National Secretary of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs (SAYFC) and, over the following decades, he shaped the organisation into the educational, social and forward looking movement that it is today.
Such was his influence on the SAYFC which, in its heyday, had more than 20,000 members scattered over the whole of Scotland, that Watson Peat, a former chairman, commented: “No one else has had such a long and continuous involvement or been so instrumental in the evolution of the movement.” Peat’s comment was made in 1987 and so could not acknowledge that Gregor would continue to contribute to Scotland’s rural youth organisation for almost another quarter of a century.
Gregor’s background was in farming, having been brought up on the family farm at Woodside of Delgaty outside Turriff. His father, no great supporter of further education, brought him home to help on the farm as soon as he reached his 14th birthday. But Gregor’s own desire to further his education saw him attend evening classes during the early years of the Second World War; other evenings in those days were taken up as a Second Lieutenant in the Home Guard.
His local young farmers’ club was in Turriff and not long after joining it in 1942 he was appointed press secretary; the first step in his route to the top of an organisation he would dominate in decades to come.
Throughout his lifetime in the SAYFC, Gregor would dismiss the notion that the organisation was no more than one large marriage agency but he did so with a little smile, as he had met Ada, his future wife, at a meeting of Turriff Young Farmers Club. It was a union that flourished for almost 70 years and produced two daughters and, in due course, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In 1949 he left the farm behind in order to take up the full-time role as organiser of SAYFC events in the Highland. This gave him grounding in the workings of clubs at grass roots level and how they could be improved.
By 1952 he was appointed National Secretary based in Edinburgh and it was from here that his influence throughout the organisation started to be felt. With a passion for developing the next generation, he opened up opportunities by ensuring members were encouraged to reach their potential in a wide range of activities.
Generations of young farmers were brought up being able to judge livestock – the organisation had its own handbook Know your Farm Stock. Members were also offered a wide range of practical tasks, including ploughing and sheep shearing.
Speechmaking became a staple competition on SAYFC agendas. As a result, many who went on to become farming leaders could recall their first efforts standing behind a podium at a Young Farmers’ competition.
From the start of his work within the movement, Gregor was an enthusiastic internationalist. In the early 1950s there were a few scholarships that allowed members to see beyond their own horizons and he encouraged travel abroad while welcoming into Scotland rural ambassadors from abroad.
In the early 1960s he was awarded a Kellogg scholarship to view the workings of the Future Farmers of America organisation in the United States and Canada. Fifty years earlier, a visit by another Scot – John Robson, Lynegar – to the State had been the trigger for establishing SAYFC in Scotland.
Gregor came back from his States visit full of new ideas, including the need for a wider vision which was soon established in the motto “Better Farmers, Better Countrymen and Better Citizens.”
In 1957 he turned his attention to Europe, making a link between Scottish Young Farmers and their compatriots on the Continent. This link culminated in an international rally held in 1966 in Scotland.
This was well before this United Kingdom entered the European Union.
His pioneering work and his strong reputation for driving youth groups forward saw him appointed to a number of influential national and international organisations in the 1970s and 1980s. These included the chairmanship of the Rural committee at the World Assembly of Youth which held conferences in Istanbul, Washington, Montreal and various capitals in Europe.
He was also on the organising committee for agricultural training and education at World conferences held in Kansas City, Paris, Berlin, Christchurch and Burkino Faso.
For his work, Gregor was recognised with the award of a Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies in 1970. In the same year came the awards of life membership of the Future Farmers of America, life membership of the European Committee for Young Farmers and an Honorary Life membership of the International Agricultural Exchange Association. Four years later, in 1974, he was awarded an MBE.
Despite ill health, he continued to attend the Highland show, with his last appearance being last June. His first Highland show was in Inverness in 1948, the first to be held in the post Second World War era. Gregor’s regular attendance at this major event not only allowed him to catch up on what present day Young Farmers were up to, it was also a meeting place for the many thousands who had passed through the SAYFC and who had benefitted from his tutelage.