Obituary: Donald Forsyth, civil engineer and talented amateur sportsman
Donald Forsyth, retired civil engineer and talented amateur sportsman, was born in Edinburgh, a second child to James and Caroline Forsyth. He was educated at George Heriot’s School and Heriot-Watt College and from an early stage exhibited considerable sporting prowess. He excelled at rugby and football but had a particular aptitude for tennis and progressed to play in the Junior Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon. He also had a trial with Heart of Midlothian. On leaving school he considered a professional tennis career but was dissuaded from this by his father. Nevertheless, he continued to play competitive tennis for a number of years while also wearing the Number 15 shirt for Heriot’s FP Rugby Club.
After national service with the Royal Air Force, Donald’s professional life was in civil engineering. He served a four- year apprenticeship from 1952 with the city engineer’s department in Edinburgh. In 1956 he married Olive Crockart and the young couple moved to Kilmarnock, where Donald was employed by FJC Lilley. In 1967 his flourishing career took him to a promoted post with Lilley in Lancashire. His reputation continued to grow such that in 1978 he was head-hunted back to his home country as civil engineering director of the Holst Construction Company. Although the demands of his career took him the length and breadth of the country, Donald settled with the family in Troon, where he remained until his death. Following the acquisition of Holst by Norwest, Donald was appointed business development director of Norwest Holst but subsequently he moved to Henry Boot Scotland, latterly becoming managing director. In 1985 he was elected president of the Building Contractors Association of Scotland.
Despite his busy professional life, Donald remained an enthusiastic and gifted sportsman. Once into his thirties he saw the writing on the wall for rugby and for competitive tennis so he decided to take up golf. Despite never having swung a golf club in anger before, within a very short period of time his handicap was scratch. Living in Lancashire he became a member of Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club, won numerous competitions and represented the club in competitive matches. He was already a member of Royal Troon Golf Club and that undoubtedly influenced his and Olive’s choice of location when they moved back to Scotland.
Donald’s association with Royal Troon was to be monumental to both him and to the club for the rest his life. He served with distinction on the general and house committees then from 1988–1990 was elected as captain.
Donald was immensely honoured by this accolade, especially since his period of captaincy coincided with the 118th Open Championship of 1989. He talked fondly of his pleasure of presenting the Claret Jug to the champion golfer of the year, Mark Calcavecchia, at the conclusion of a wonderful Championship week. It was very fitting that in the final year of his life, Donald was reunited with Mark during the week of the 145th Open staged at Royal Troon.
Donald was immensely proud of Royal Troon Golf Club. He had a wide circle of friends throughout the UK and overseas, many of whom he and Olive welcomed to their Ayrshire home on a regular basis. He was a fabulous host and raconteur but also commanded huge respect considering what he had achieved in his illustrious amateur sporting career and given freely of his time to the benefit of others. In 1989 he was elected a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
A key to Donald’s success and the respect he gained in all walks of life was that he was a true “people person”. He had time for everyone, was always interested in diverse views, and could engage anyone in meaningful conversation – quite simply he was always interested in “you”. He thrived on intelligent debate and days sitting round the fire in the Smoke Room of Royal Troon Golf Club with ‘The Chairman’, as he affectionately became known, holding court were something to behold.
But apart from all of this, Donald was a family man. He and Olive were married for almost 60 years prior to Olive’s death in April 2016. They were a formidable partnership who opened the doors of their home to everyone.
Their famed annual party on the Sunday of the final day of the Open Championship was only part of their generosity and the two of them were the life and soul of many a gathering.
Like Olive, Donald will be sorely missed by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. He is survived by his daughters, Caroline and Morag, his sons-in-law Ken and Bobby, his four grandchildren of whom he was immensely proud, Stuart, Jill, Scott and Amy, his elder sister Dorina, and his Border Terrier Isla. .
His funeral was at Masonhill Crematorium, Ayr, on Friday, 31 March.
John R McGregor