Obituaries: Alexander Murray, hill farmer and former Perth Provost

Alexander (Alex) Murray MBE, hill farmer and local politician. Born: 22 December, 1930 in Greenock. Died: 11 May, 2022 in Lurgan, aged 91

There have been few people who have started off with as little as Alex Murray did but who then built up a large and well-recognised farming enterprise.

There are even fewer Scottish politicians who have been honoured with the Freedom of one of the major Chinese cities but Alex Murray was one.

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Some will remember this self-made man standing in the centre of the sale ring with his shepherd’s crook in hand and with a fine pen of home bred Blackie ewe lambs swirling around him.

Alex Murray was described as a ‘local legend’ by one of Scotland’s main farming magazinesAlex Murray was described as a ‘local legend’ by one of Scotland’s main farming magazines
Alex Murray was described as a ‘local legend’ by one of Scotland’s main farming magazines

Others will see a scrupulously fair Provost of Perth and Kinross Council, chairing a meeting with his gavel in front of him as he conducted the meetings of the local authority.

Both sightings confirm the high status with which he was held in the community which he served and to which he contributed.

Few who met him in later life would guess the inauspicious or humble circumstances in which he was brought up. He was born in Greenock but when he was only five years old, his mother died and he and his brother, David were fostered by a couple living on a croft at Kilmorack a couple of miles from Beauly.

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Life was strict with hard work on the croft being followed by a day of rest with worship at both English and Gaelic churches. In this largely Gaelic speaking area, he became a fluent speaker of Scotland’s native language.

Despite having a sharp and inquiring mind and a remarkable memory, Alex did not shine at school. He left, aged 14, to take over the running of his foster parents’ croft.

And it was there his hard work, his inventiveness and his ability to spot a business opportunity first came to the fore. He bought a little grey Fergie tractor and plough and was soon inundated with work after neighbours saw how much ground could be covered by this yoke compared with their own horse-powered efforts.

His first paid employment was as a stalker on the Lovat Estate where, as a perk of the job, he was allowed to run some sheep on the estate.

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It was during this period of his life that he met Lil or Lilias at a local dance. She was to be with him for the rest of their lives. They married in 1958 and the marriage produced David, Alison, Margaret and Alexander and, in due course, grandchildren and great grandchildren

In a major step up the farming ladder, Alex then took on the tenancy of Culag farm, a hill unit on Luss Estates which could carry about 600 ewes and 30 cows. With youthful enthusiasm, he threw himself into making this farm a profitable business. He not only tackled the bracken which had previously been allowed to thrive and kill out the grass, but he produced sheep which were in demand in the sale ring.

He and Lil diversified the business with caravans for holidaymakers. Their visitors were provided with milk from the farm cow which Alex milked every day. They were also sold eggs from the hens on the farm.

He was certainly ambitious, and, after several attempts, he took the tenancy of Lurgan and Glencoulandie farms from Major Neil Ramsay of Farlayer Estate in 1971. This move saw him farm 7,000 hill acres with a carrying capacity of 1,700 ewes and 80 cows.

This did not end his farming ambitions as, in the years ahead, he either bought or rented up to five farms at one time or another. However, scale and size of farming was not the main driving force in his business as he always took great pride in the quality of livestock he turned out; none more so than when selling ewe lambs bred on one of his farms.

One highlight came in 1996 when one of his ram lambs was bid to £10,000. This price set a new record price for the Stirling Livestock Centre.

While sheep dominated his farm businesses, Alex was also a strong supporter of the Aberfeldy calf sale held in Perth where most of the cattle from his farms were sold.

These highlights confirmed his status in the farming community and this was consolidated in 2004 when he was awarded an MBE for his services to the industry. Further confirmation of his status in the farming community came when he earned the title of being a “local legend” by one of Scotland’s main farming magazines

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While all this would have filled the life of a lesser person, Alex also found time to devote part of his life to politics. His first foray into that arena came during his time at Luss where he represented his community on the local council.

Then in the 1974 General Election he stood at the SNP candidate in the West Dumbartonshire constituency. Although this was very much a Labour stronghold, Alec’s debating skills and energy saw him just fall short by 1,800 votes into becoming an MP.

A few years later in 1981, he stood as a local councillor in Perth; a position he held for 18 years. Recognising his diplomatic skills, he was then, in 1988, elected as Provost of the local authority where a former colleague commented on both his ability to work across the political divide and his determination to get things done.

As a civic head who enjoyed meeting people, Alex promoted links with other towns and cities around the world. To cement these links, Alex travelled widely in Australia, New Zealand and Canada but perhaps his greatest achievement was twinning Perth in Scotland with Haikou, a city of more than two million inhabitants in China. For his efforts in building this link, he was given the freedom of the city.

This travelling and looking to the far horizons did not stop this relentlessly energetic and driven man from looking after his own home patch where he always enjoyed a healthy vote at election time.

All this farming and politicking did not squeeze out his family life where he enchanted the younger children with tales of fairies. As some older observers remarked, he seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Alex Murray lived a full life, not only packing a great deal into his time on earth and but also achieving many successes.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


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