Obituaries: George Hewitt, history tutor, writer and jazz trombonist

George Hewitt, historian and jazz musician. Born: 7 January, 1934 in Glasgow. Died: 26 September, 2023 in Irvine

George was born in Glasgow on the 7 January, 1934. He was the only child of Richard Hewitt, a railway clerk who had served with a battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918. His mother was Marjorie Rennie and the family lived in Clydebank until Richard Hewitt’s work took him to Edinburgh in 1940. Six months later their house in Clydebank was destroyed like many more in the 1941 German blitz on the town.

In Edinburgh George attended Parson’s Green Primary School, of which he was dux and then went on, with the aid of a scholarship, to the Royal High School. He took an active part in several sports there and also did well academically. When his father was promoted to a position in Irvine, George moved there with him and his mother and subsequently went to Glasgow University to study history.

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National Service followed from 1956 to 1958, with George serving with the Royal Leicestershire Regiment in the Army Education Corps. He later recalled it as a time when he played rugby in the army and also performed with a jazz band in Leicester. Periods of leave also let him get to London to sample its growing jazz club scene.

At his funeral, George Hewitt’s life was described as one well playedAt his funeral, George Hewitt’s life was described as one well played
At his funeral, George Hewitt’s life was described as one well played

Once out of the army he began teaching in Ayrshire, eventually becoming Principal Teacher of History at Carrick Academy in Maybole. He was always keen to move into adult education and he did so in 1970 when he joined Langside College in Glasgow where he remained until 1996. While there, he made lasting friendships and also completed a doctoral thesis.

Soon after its formation in 1970 he was recruited by the Open University as a History Tutor. As with many of us this brought him enormous satisfaction and enjoyment. He was a respected and popular tutor who brought to his teaching his own quite distinctive and sometimes sardonic sense of humour over many years of service.

In 1981 his research for his thesis bore fruit in a much-praised book Scotland under Morton, a very readable and scholarly study of James Douglas, the fourth Earl of Morton who was Regent of Scotland from 1572 to 1578 during the turbulent years before the reign of James XI could start.

More excellent work followed. In 1989 he co-wrote with Ian Donnachie A Companion to Scottish History from the Reformation to the Present, still widely used, and in 1993 he co-wrote also with Ian Donnachie Historic New Lanark. George was also a significant contributor to the superb new edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, which Oxford University Press began work on in 1992.

Along with all these achievements and commitments George remained a dedicated jazz musician. He had taken up the trombone in his third year at the Royal High School where a vibrant jazz tradition had nurtured talents like those of Sandy Brown, Al Fairweather and Charlie McNair.

George sat in with various bands and in Irvine he helped form the New Orleans Joy Makers. For 25 years until the onset of Covid they performed every month in the towns Harbour Arts Centre and lived up to their name, never failing to entertain audiences with their exuberant playing.

The centre hosted other events and George took an active part in running it. This typified his commitment to a town with a strong civic tradition. It had, and still has several historic trade associations. George joined one of them, the Tailors’ Craft and became their Deacon, greatly enjoying their dinners or “Big Pie” as the major one of the year was called.

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George also had an unswerving loyalty to Rangers Football Club. He was particularly proud of a chapter he contributed in 2007 to It’s Rangers for Me, a thoughtful volume of essays on the club and its history co-edited by Ronnie Esplin and Graham Walker.

George married twice, first in 1958 to Marion Begg who died in 1972. They had four children, Marjorie, Eileen, Dougal and Alastair. In 1974 he married Agnes Kerr who became a respected doctor in Irvine. They had three children, Margaret, Abigail and William. George was close to and very proud of them all. He liked to describe them as “the magnificent seven”.

Family was all-important to George. He loved being with them, cooking for them and travelling with them when they were young and he also loved dearly his four grandchildren. His appetite for travel stayed with him and he and Agnes took in Denmark, France and the United States, including of course New Orleans. These trips were accompanied by unfailingly amusing postcard messages. He was generous in his affections and his love, especially for Agnes and he thrived too on the many friendships which came so easily to him. His life was described at his funeral as one well played and indeed it was.


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