Born a “Bathgate Bairn”; son of Jimmy and Jenny Melville, Willie was educated at Bathgate Academy, before joining the National Bank at the age of 17. Shortly thereafter he was signed up for National service with the RAF, spending most of his time at Lossiemouth. (That military training was to be put to good use many years later when he drilled his fellow lifeboat crew in marching, in preparation for carrying the RNLI colours at St Paul’s Cathedral in London).
Following National Service Willie re-joined the bank, which later became part of the Royal Bank of Scotland. He served in bank management posts in many parts of the country including Helensburgh, Mallaig and Maybole but always fought to return to his favourite, Oban. In those far off days, when a bank manager had real decision-making authority, Willie’s good judgment was the catalyst for starting several successful Oban businesses.
Heart problems in his mid-50s meant an early retirement from the bank, but absolutely not a slowing down of his many community involvements. Following successful heart surgery, Willie, together with a small group of medical professionals and friends decided to set up a local charity; which they named ABCD (Argyll Beats Cardiovascular Disease). The aim of the charity was to alleviate the burden of heart disease in the local population by providing support for new medical initiatives to improve cardiac care; supporting projects aimed at improving lifestyle, especially in the young; and supporting training for health professionals. A number of these projects were initially funded with seed money by ABCD, but later, having demonstrated efficacy, stages, drawing up the constitution and gaining charitable status. He served as Treasurer of ABCD from its inception until he had to give up because of failing health earlier this year. During his time in office he oversaw the raising of around £250,000, and the support of well over 100 projects.
Willie’s 50 years of service to the Lifeboat Institution began as a crew member of Helensburgh inshore lifeboat in the 1960s. Following a move to Oban he was soon a member of the committee formed to lobby the RNLI for a lifeboat to be stationed in Oban. As a result of these efforts, on 20 May 1972 an inshore McLachlan class lifeboat was placed on service in Oban. Given his previous experience Willie became an immediate and “enthusiastic” crew member, on one occasion abandoning his desk at the bank and running full pelt along the street, right round Argyll Square instead of across it, and so on to the pier! Over the years Willie served in almost every capacity possible at a lifeboat station. Following retirement from the crew (compulsory at age 55 in those days), he served as deputy launching authority, station chairman, press officer, and sea safety advisor. He frequently travelled Scotland and Ireland with the RNLI Sea Safety road show, advising on all aspects of marine safety. Perhaps his single outstanding achievement was the researching and writing of his book The story of Oban Lifeboat, now, sadly, out of print due to the demise of the publisher. It has to be said that many such station histories are rather boring. Not so Willie’s, which narrates many amusing incidents, such as the trial recovery of a “casualty” – Willie himself – from the sea by stretcher. Things went a little wrong, with Willie taking a headlong dive, only to be greeted by fellow crew members as he spluttered to the surface, with shouts of “9.9 for style Willie”! The book went on to become a local best seller, and raised thousands of pounds for the RNLI.
Willie was recently awarded an inscribed statuette for his work, and earlier this year a framed citation in recognition of his 50 years of service to the RNLI.
In so many ways Willie’s sheer enthusiasm for life drew him into the community, and gathered friends around him. He was a keen member of the Speakers Club. He loved his sailing; both as Secretary of the Royal Highland Yacht Club for many years, and with his own friends and family. A lover of all things outdoors, he was a keen gardener and birdwatcher. He was a member of Kilmore and Oban Church of Scotland since 1966. He attended worship every week and was a manager in the Congregation Board. As Rev Dugald Cameron commented: “He took on the theology of the love of God, and sought to live this with integrity and commitment”.
Willie leaves behind his wife of 56 years, Margaret; sons Donald and Robin, four grandchildren: Jamie, Catriona, Jordan and Bethany, together with great grandchildren Hunter and Levi. He will be greatly missed by his family, his wide circle of friends, and the whole community of Oban.