Scotsman Obituaries: Bill Ferguson OBE, farmer and public servant

William (Bill) James Ferguson OBE, DL, FRAgS, farmer. Born: 3 April 1933 in Bogtama, Auchterless. Died: 24 March 2022 in Nether Darley, Fyvie, aged 88

There are very few who contribute so much to our society that they get a building named after them, but such was Bill Ferguson’s long-term support for agricultural education that they named the main building at the Scottish Agricultural College, Craibstone Campus in Aberdeen, the Ferguson Building.

His support for promoting education in the North East of Scotland was long standing. First as chairman of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture. Then, when the colleges amalgamated into the Scottish Agricultural College, Bill became the first vice chairman of that expanded organisation.

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His public service was both lengthy and varied. It followed his reputation as a good farmer being both hard-working and innovative. As such, he quickly gained the respect of those around him and he was invited to serve on a range of agricultural committees.

Bill Ferguson had a reputation for being hard-working and innovative
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He was elected chairman of the Aberdeen Milk Marketing Board at a time when it was one of the statutory buyers of milk in the North East. His prominent role in these organisations saw him appointed a director of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland during their bicentenary year in the 1980s.

He was forward thinking, being one of the first farmers to see the link between the environment and producing food, and it was no surprise when he became the first chairman of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group of Scotland. Bill’s business acumen was recognised when he was appointed a Trustee of the Aberdeen Endowments Trust, a charity with considerable reserves in both land and buildings.

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Recognising his efforts in these various organisations, he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies. A College colleague described Bill as very approachable and fair, adding “he was a really fine man”.

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His gentle but determined consensual attitude in a field which often throws up tricky situations saw him awarded an OBE for services to agricultural education. The Queen then asked Bill to be her Vice Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire; an honour which he accepted and he enjoyed the many and varied tasks that came with that honour.

Bill was brought up on the family farm and went to the local primary school in Fyvie before his next educational step at Turriff Academy prior to leaving school to come back to farm.

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He served two years National Service. Friends would later attribute his attention to detail and being a stickler for tidiness to the time he served with the Gordon Highlanders in Malaysia.

After completing his military service, he went off to Craibstone to further his education but the death of his father interrupted that plan and, at 21, he came home to farm.

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Few farmers own tidy, or even clean, cars, but Bill was an exception. His farm was well tended with no gates hanging off their hinges or broken machinery in the yard. Bill carried a reputation for being neat and dapper on all occasions – even when combining, he wore a white boiler suit.

Away from the farm and the many meetings in which he was involved, Bill enjoyed golf, skiing and shooting with friends, where success was measured by the enjoyment of the sport.

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In his younger days, an annual skiing trip to Wengen was a fixture in his diary. In more recent times, his always inquisitive mind was satisfied by reading.

He enjoyed shooting, especially the camaraderie and the chat in the Land Rovers. It was not the number of birds in the bag that was important to Bill. As the years rolled on, his appreciation of wildlife grew and he understood the importance of good native habitats and the role that conservation played in that.

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His first foray into commerce had come much earlier when he and fellow schoolboy friends attended the annual Turriff show. There they would scoop up the prizes for bareback pony racing as the professional jockeys were so used to saddles. On one occasion, Bill bought a new pony at the mart in Aberdeen and decided to ride it home, despite the 25 miles separating the Granite city and Fyvie. The pony was well and truly broken in by the time they reached home, and it knew who was boss.

He met and married Carroll Milne from a well-known Howe of the Mearns farming family and together they had a son, William, and three daughters Kim, Nicola and Emma. Grandchildren followed and more recently they enjoyed the company of their great grandchildren

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As a very congenial couple, their lengthy marriage of 61 years was punctuated by many parties at which Bill excelled in being a very welcoming and hospitable host, being kind and considerate to everyone.

His kindness and consideration for others was also confirmed with Bill serving as an elder at Fyvie Parish church for more than half a century.

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Bill was a first class communicator. He relished straight talking and while he listened to other people’s views, he had a steely determination about what was right and what was not.

He was a gentleman whose civic responsibilities were carried out, not for personal gain, but for the wider benefit of society.

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