Scotsman Obituaries: Bill McLellan, top-class athlete, teacher and businessman

Bill McLellan, athlete. Born: 14 March 1943 in East Wemyss, Fife. Died: 16 August 2022 in Windygates, Fife, aged 79

Bill McLellan pictured in 1964
Bill McLellan pictured in 1964

Bill McLellan was a top class athlete, a versatile sportsman, a highly regarded teacher and a successful businessman. His most notable athletic achievements were winning the 1964 Powderhall New Year Sprint aged 20 and setting a British Professional long Jump record in 1967.

In addition he won the Scottish Light Events championship on four occasions. He was a very promising footballer, twice selected to represent Scottish Boys’ Clubs only for injury to disrupt his progress before going on to enjoy success in Junior football. Later Bill took up golf, playing off a single figure handicap at Lundin Links where he won several trophies.

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A graduate of Jordanhill Physical Education College, he enjoyed an excellent teaching reputation, ultimately as Principal of PE at Viewforth High School, Kirkcaldy, where he coached various sports. After early retirement he and wife Sam successfully ran a hotel in Coaltown of Wemyss in conjunction with his golf business, McLellan Golf, catering for players mainly from abroad on golfing holidays.

William McLennan was born in East Wemyss to Barbara following her relationship with a Polish Flight Sergeant based at Leuchars. Bill was brought up in East Wemyss in a happy home by his grandparents, William, a miner, and Maggie, first attending the local primary school before going to Buckhaven High School.

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Initially football was his main sport, and he made a name as a high-scoring centre forward, but a knee injury in a reserve match for East Fife prevented him playing in the Scottish Boys’ Clubs’ fixtures and put football on hold. Thereafter he concentrated on athletics while at college and in the summer of 1963 took part in Ceres Games in Fife where an £8 win in the sprints caught the eye of local trainer Andrew Mitchell of Kelty.

At this time there was a strict divide between professional and amateur athletics, one consequence being that only amateurs could represent Scotland internationally. As a “pro” Bill could not attain international selection but his best performances were worthy of that status.

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An astute coach, Mitchell made plans to train Bill for the famous New Year Sprint which was run on handicaps, a potentially lucrative event through betting winnings. As a favourable handicap was essential, Mitchell organised a low-key build up, with Bill only competing sparingly to keep him “under the radar” to improve handicap prospects.

Prior to the Sprint, Mitchell arranged an intensive “prep” for Bill based in Kelty, where he ate the best of foods and trained hard daily at Pitreavie in “top secret” conditions, usually wearing a balaclava to conceal his identity for betting purposes. Bill applied himself assiduously and by 1 January 1964, when the event began at Newtongrange, was in top condition. On a cold blustery day he won his heat comfortably and the next day narrowly won his cross tie to reach the Final. Off a decent handicap of 7 yards, he became favourite at odds of 1-4 on. In the near dark in front of a crowd of 5,000 and against a strong wind, he held his lead all the way to defeat runner-up Stuart Hogg, claiming a memorable victory worth £250 and a gold medal. Mitchell and backers won a considerable sum on the betting, perhaps about £10,000, with Bill given an extra £50, bringing his winnings to £300, worth about £5,000 now.

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Meantime his knee condition had improved enough to enable him to play football for Junior side St Andrews United for a couple of seasons, with the team winning the Fife Junior League in 1965, thanks in part to Bill’s goalscoring skills.

His New Year Sprint win provided the springboard for Bill’s long, successful Highland Games career. He competed the length and breadth of Scotland and also in Lake District Games until the late 1970s. While he had made his mark as a sprinter he was also an excellent jumper and pole vaulter at a time when landing pits consisted of meagre sand or frequently only grass. His versatility enabled him to win many prizes; it's reckoned he achieved about 300 first places in these events, his greatest motivation being competition.

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One of his best days came at Aberdeen Games in 1967 when he set a new British Professional Long Jump record of 23’ 7½“ and won the 100 yards in a very fast 9.75 secs, albeit wind assisted. In 1969 he coached then pupil Bert Oliver to success in the Powderhall Youth Sprint and once he stopped competing became National High Jump Coach for a spell.

He taught in various schools, including the secure Rossie Farm School near Montrose, where he dealt with challenging young offenders, before becoming Principal of PE at Viewforth High School in 1975. Bill had first married in the 1960s when sons John and Andrew were born, but he was later divorced. In 1977 future wife Sheila, known as Sam, was appointed Bill’s assistant; they fell in love and married in 1980, with Bill welcoming her children Beth, Stuart and Ailsa into the household.

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In 1986 once Bill retired from teaching, the couple bought the Earl David Hotel in Coaltown of Wemyss and built it into a successful business, with his golf enterprise very popular. After ten years they sold up and did a lot of travelling, including to North America, Hawaii, Dubai, Cambodia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

A member of Mensa, Bill was adept at crosswords, played bridge, bowls, enjoyed his guitar and wrote poetry in Scots.

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A well-rounded, sociable and popular individual, family was important to him and he followed his grandchildrens’ sporting pursuits closely. He is survived by Sam, his children and ten grandchildren.

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