Obituary: Robert Dick, farmer and entrepreneur with strong community values

Rob DickRob Dick
Rob Dick
Robert Ian Dick FRAgs, FCMI farmer, entrepreneur and businessman. Born: 17 July 1939, at Rudge Hall, Pattingham, Shropshire. Died: 26 March 2020, at Borders General Hospital, St Boswells, aged 80.

The Borders ­communities have lost one of their much admired and respected farming and business leaders following the death of Robert Ian Dick, known to all as Rob. He was 80.

Rob was born in Pattingham, Shropshire, but spent his early years in Appleton, just outside Oxford.

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His early schooling took him to Greycoats, then Elstree, ­followed by a distinguished time at Harrow where he became Head of House. There he witnessed old boy Winston Churchill returning to deliver a patriotic address as a finale to the traditional school songs.

Rob picked up squash at an early age. He won his house cup at Harrow as a new boy, before progressing to rackets and winning the Public Schools Championship.

After Harrow, Rob studied agriculture at St John’s College, Cambridge. Squash remained a strong interest and whilst at Cambridge he won a blue and was selected for a joint Oxford and Cambridge tour of the USA.

At 19 he was introduced to Lesley Gairdner, from Ayrshire, and after a trip to a friend’s regimental ball in Glasgow, love blossomed and the rest is history.

They married in Ayr in 1961, and after a brief time as a land agent in Lanarkshire, where their eldest son Andrew was born, Rob persuaded the Roxburghe Estate to give him the newly vacated tenancy of Otterburn farm, near ­Morebattle, in the Scottish Borders. They moved there in 1963 and the ­family expanded, with ­Fenella, Michael and David following.

Rob would describe the early days of farming as “mixed and hard”. The full harvest had to be carried by hand in huge hundredweight bags up to the first floor granary loft. Whilst the house was a grand place for family life, the farm lacked the scale to generate much of a return on effort.

This was a challenge that Rob rose to, being instrumental in forming Glenteviot Farmers in the 1960s. This group of like-minded farmers combined their buying ­power for commodities like fertiliser, then pooled the purchasing of machinery and the use of manpower. This was a real innovation at the time.

Rob in 1974 wrote up his experiences in a thesis, On Farm Cooperation, for the Royal Agricultural Societies, which became a study book for agri-students and earned him a CARAS fellowship in recognition of his outstanding contribution to UK agriculture and rural progress.

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In 1975, Glenteviot was the subject of a BBC Scotland ­documentary. A recording emerged recently to be admired by the next generation – along with a bit of ribbing for some long forgotten 1970s hairstyles adopted by the then young farmers.

All this activity would be enough for most farmers, but Rob was developing another project – working with Cedric Marshall to launch Agrikem, a crop spraying and fertiliser distribution business, based at Ednam East Mill near Kelso.

The operation grew into a thriving business and was known to locals for the crop spraying helicopters that would be on the company stand at the Border Union show at Kelso. In 1986 Agrikem was sold to CSC Crop Protection, Perth. Rob continued to work for the newly expanded group, commuting to the HQ in Perth regularly.

Meanwhile, family life at Otterburn blossomed as the children grew up and Rob and Lesley contributed to many areas of community life. Otterburn became a welcoming place for pony club eventers, and local primary school children hunting for conkers. The Morebattle gun club was given space for clay shooting, and later the village stick making group found a room for their traditional craftwork.

Rob, along with Lesley, joined St Andrew’s in Kelso where for many years he was a church warden. Rob spearheaded fundraising efforts including £60,000 for essential work and helped run the popular August bank holiday sale right up until last year.

Rob’s expertise as a businessman was recognised back in Oxford with a request to join the board at the family company W.Lucy & Co. The company expanded and over time became the Lucy Group, appearing in The Times Top 250 Company list in 2014 and 2017.

Rob’s passion for the outdoors led him to be an early backer of Highfield Forestry, investing in woodland planting. In 2002 he joined the board of the Lockerbie-based Heather Trust, stepping up to be chairman from 2003–2007 but remained involved until 2013 when he became life president.

But creating successful businesses for himself was not enough for Rob and so in 2004 he founded Tricapital, the Melrose-based business angel syndicate. Rob was chairman from its inception until the end of 2016 during which time he contributed to the creation of more than 500 jobs. His wider contribution to the Scottish business angel sector was recognised and he was appointed a director of LINC Scotland in 2006 until retiring in 2012.

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After standing down as chairman of Tricapital and being appointed life president, Rob joined the board of the Border Union Agricultural Society, owners of the Kelso showground, in 2016. He helped to modernise the governance structure, becoming the first chairman of the new board of trustees.

However, life was not always kind to the family as their youngest son David tragically died of cancer in 2010. Shortly before this Rob had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Rob’s illness never stopped him from applying his energies. He continued to work just as hard and as selflessly as he could for the benefit of others.

But as illness gradually took its toll, Rob and Lesley decided to relinquish Otterburn and they moved to Kelso in 2019.

Rob was a great sportsman. For many years he put out an RI Dick’s XI for a crunch cricket match against Yetholm and Morebattle and a fixture or two against The Borderers. At 80 he remained a talented player in the Nippers Tennis Club near Tillmouth and was one of the most regular ­participants with the tenacious ‘Wedgers’ at Roxburghe Golf Club.

His other sporting interest was shooting. In the Borders this started with adventures on a rough shoot up the Bowmont Valley. This was followed by a syndicate with friends and neighbouring farmers, and then guest slots at locations all over the Borders and beyond.

Rob loved the many roles he carved out in the Borders community, and in return was highly regarded by a huge variety of people. In recent times, any journey whether it was from Otterburn to treatment in Edinburgh, or latterly from Kelso to the Borders General Hospital was punctuated with comments on who lived where, how he had met them, or a nearby business he worked with and perhaps a story of a shooting party, a tennis match or a time when he (nearly) got stuck in snow.

Rob is survived by Lesley, children Andrew, Fenella and Michael and 13 grandchildren.

Jamie Andrew

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