Obituary: Brian Dickie, farmer, businessman and livestock auctioneers chairman

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Brian Dickie, farmer and businessman. Born: 8 May 1953 in Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway. Died: 3 September 2019 in Sanquhar, aged 66

Brian Dickie believed the livestock sector provided the backbone to the Scottish farming industry and he further believed that livestock auction marts provided cattle and sheep producers with the answer to pressures in the red meat sector, where retailers and processors can often dominate.

This latter conviction saw him become increasingly involved in the running of Lawrie and Symington auction market at a time when the company, with its headquarters in Lanark, faced major problems.

His efforts over the last ten years, six and a half of them as chairman, are now recognised as giving the business – one of the biggest of its kind in Scotland – the platform to go from strength to strength.

As was remarked in his eulogy Dickie, for little or no thanks or reward other than his own personal satisfaction, “got stuck in”.

As proof of the high regard in which he was held as a fair but firm businessman, he had just been re-appointed chairman for another three year stint.

Following his death earlier this month, the tribute that would probably have made him prouder than any other came when auctioneer Archie Hamilton called for a minute’s silence from those around the Lanark ringside before the start of the Blackface ewe lamb sale.

Those who knew him could have visualised a smiling Dickie hanging over the gate at his usual position at the entrance to the ring.

Despite the unusual surroundings, the minute’s silence was immaculately observed as befitted the respect in which he was held by fellow livestock producers.

He was not just chairman of one of the largest auction companies in Scotland, he was one of the biggest sheep farmers in the country with an 
enviable reputation for selling top quality livestock from his hill farms; a fact confirmed by buyers returning year after year for his well turned out stock.

After such sales, Brian always paid tribute to his stockmen, describing the relationship between them and himself not as employer/employee but as a partnership. It was a partnership built on the stockmanship skills of people such as Willie and Jackson Pringle, John and Johna Scott, Charlie Scott and Jim Bell

One key aspect of his life on both the farms and in the market was his easy camaraderie, which stretched from the market yardsmen through to royalty, the latter coming with a visit from the Princess Royal to Lanark two years ago to celebrate the company’s 150 years of trading.

Dickie was not a remote figurehead either in the business or on his farm. His reputation was that he would help anyone if he could.

Fifteen years ago, as proof that he was a successful farmer producing top quality livestock, he made a successful raid at the prestigious Smithfield show, taking first prizes in both the live and carcass competition for Blackface lambs.

But it was at the Scottish Winter Fair that his renowned Blackies provided Dickie with a string of successes. In 2010 they were mountain sheep champions and reserve overall. Then he won the Blackie championships in 2012 and 2013, while in 2015 his entries were reserve overall champions after taking the champion and reserve moorland award and the champion and reserve Blackface.

It was not only the commercial sale and show rings that he had success as, almost 50 years ago, he sold a tup lamb for £3,200 which, with price inflation, would have equalled a five-figure bid in 2019.

But that was the end of his tup breeding, other than producing rams for his own use. He had no interest in entering the high-pressure arena of selling pedigree Blackface tups.

What his early success did prove was that if he put his mind to doing something he succeeded; a trait that was evident throughout his career.

From the moment he was born on the family farm at Sanquhar in 1953, Dickie was destined to be a farmer. He went to Crawfordton school where he excelled at rugby. That love of rugby continued at Merchiston Castle and, although a serious knee injury effectively ended his playing career at 16, he never lost his love for the sport.

He was an avid follower of the Scottish national team, not only at home matches but in France, Italy and Ireland where, often regardless of the outcome of the game, great fun was had by his legendary touring group of farming friends.

He came home to the family farms in 1969 and through various subsequent land acquisitions over the years, the business grew. Among the deals, Dickie fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by buying Spango and Carco farms from Buccleuch Estates in 2003.

He was not long home at Spango when he met Elma Borthwick at a local young farmers dance.

They married in 1977 and celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary two years ago in the company of their three daughters and their husbands, Jill and Davie, Morag and Andrew, and Susan, along with many family friends. He was a devoted family man and was often seen in Sanquhar or around the farms with at least one of his three grandchildren, Sophie, Emily and Archie, whom he adored.

Brian and Elma’s hospitality was legendary and not even extreme bad weather was allowed to disrupt a Dickie “do” – as was proven by Elma and Brian’s 40th birthday party in May 1993. For this occasion, a marquee was erected in front of the house at Spango. It seemed like a great idea until winter returned.

With nearly a foot of snow and no electricity, many would have cancelled the party, but not Brian. Snowploughs, telehandlers and tractors were used to open the roads. Space heaters were secured, and generators hired, and the party went ahead. This was but one example of Brian Dickie’s determination.

His guiding motto throughout his life was that known to many farmers, namely “Farm as if you are going to live forever but live as if you are going to die tomorrow.”

Generous, loyal, caring and determined, Brian of all people would have wanted his family and friends to look forward with glasses half full particularly at this time. That was always his way.

ANDREW ARBUCKLE