Obituary: John Wightman CVO CBE, solicitor and Royal Naval Reserve Commodore

John Watt Wightman CVO CBE RD* WS, lawyer and Royal Naval Reserve commander. Born: 20 November, 1933 in Leith. Died: 19 September, 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 87
John Wightman enjoyed a distinguished career in the Royal Naval ReserveJohn Wightman enjoyed a distinguished career in the Royal Naval Reserve
John Wightman enjoyed a distinguished career in the Royal Naval Reserve

John Wightman was born in Leith, to solicitor Robert Johnson Wightman and Edith Laing. Shortly after he was joined by sister Edith Mary. John recalled pushing Edith Mary in her pram when German bombers flew low over Trinity, apparently with the factory at Crewe Toll as their intended target. He spent time during the war with his Auntie Mary at 25 High Street, North Berwick, above the ironmonger shop owned by his grandfather, John Wightman. The story goes that the first night he was at North Berwick to get away from the risks of Leith was the night bombs dropped on Berwick Law, the pilots either mistaking lights on the hill for one of the airfields, or simply dropping off their payload for their return trip.

John helped with harvesting, drove cows down from Rhodes Holdings to the fields, and trapped rabbits which went to the local butcher.

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John went to school at Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh, where he was Dux and Head Boy. He continued his education at St Andrews University, where he studied for an MA. He received the class medals in many subjects, was president of the Student Representative Council and represented the university at cross country running. With an eye towards being in the Navy for his National Service, he joined the Tay Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1951 as an Ordinary Seaman, not knowing this would be the start of a 35-year career in the uniform of the Senior Service. John graduated from St Andrews with an MA First Class in 1955, and shared an award for top graduate.

National Service was spent from 1955-1957 with the Royal Navy, initially aboard aircraft carrier HMS Ocean. He was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in 1956. Active service included patrol boats in Cyprus during the Eoka terrorist campaign, and commanding landing craft at Suez. Latterly he was with 108th Minesweeping Squadron based at Malta.

He considered staying with the Royal Navy after National Service, but decided to return to Scotland to study law.

On his return, one of John’s first actions was to go through to Glasgow to visit one of his classmates from university, Isla McLeod, with whom he had been corresponding. They wed at Netherlee Church in Glasgow in 1962, spending a snow-covered honeymoon on Jersey. Their first home was in India Street, Edinburgh, where they were joined first by Rona (1963) and then Janet (1965). They moved to Ann Street in 1967 and Robbie was born in 1968.

By then John had joined the Forth Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He gradually rose through the ranks, his two years of experience in the Mediterranean serving him well. He was Aide de Camp at Holyroodhouse to Lord High Commissioners of the General Assembly in 1964 and 1965. He qualified in ship command in 1966 and commanded minesweepers and hunters including HMS Killiecrankie, HMS Kirkliston and HMS Kedleston. Promotion to Commander came in 1971 and he took command of Forth Division between 1976 and 1980.

On leaving Forth Division he was appointed as “Captain Plans and Policy” for what was by then the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). He was promoted to Commodore, becoming the highest ranking officer in the RNR with effect from 1982. To join his campaign medals from his time in the Mediterranean he was awarded the Reserve Decoration (RD) and was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1986. On retirement from the RNR in 1985 he served as Director of The Earl Haig Fund Scotland, Trustee with the Haig Housing Trust, Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve Association and The Sea Cadet Association.

John graduated LL.B from Edinburgh University in 1960. He undertook an apprenticeship with Macandrew Wright and Murray before being admitted as a solicitor and Writer to the Signet. He joined his father as a partner of the firm of Morton, Smart, MacDonald and Milligan WS in 1961 and continued as a partner of the firm (which subsequently became Morton Fraser) through to 1999.

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He was probably among the last general practitioners of the law in a fairly large firm. He had a large rural and estate practice, mostly in the far north of Scotland but also had a more local private client practice and looked after commercial clients too. He was liked and respected by clients from boardrooms to crofters’ kitchens, where his common sense, allied with his intellect, was quickly appreciated.

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He had responsibility for apprentices’ training for many years and was an influential, kind and constructive mentor. As staff partner he was a good boss, always keen to develop skills. Growing a beard in the early 1970s was not very popular with the senior partners but he persevered, at a time when just about no other Edinburgh solicitor had one.

He was Solicitor to the Queen in Scotland from 1983 to 1999, and was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1998 in recognition of that work. Various appointments included Secretary of the Society of Scottish Artists (1960-1968) and chairman of an Area Forestry Committee. He was Chairman of Craig and Rose PLC (suppliers of paint to the Forth Road Bridge) from 1988-1998. He was senior partner and chairman of Morton Fraser from 1988-1998. After retiring in 1998 he remained a consultant but had more time to pursue his interests in sailing, fishing and ornithology

John Wightman is survived by his wife Isla and their three children: Rona, with her husband Alastair and daughter Izzi; Janet, with her husband Jim and sons Gavin and Iain; and Robbie, with his wife Marion, and daughters Isla and Heather.



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