Scotsman obituaries: Brian Adair, athlete and businessman

Brian Adair, businessman. Born: 29 May 1935 in London. Died: 1 November 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 86

Brian Adair prior to his Kirking as the Master of the Merchant Company at St Giles
Brian Adair prior to his Kirking as the Master of the Merchant Company at St Giles

Brian Adair was a remarkable individual, a high achiever in many fields, particularly in the business and sporting worlds, a true gentleman for whom success went hand in hand with integrity, respect for others, congeniality and an excellent sense of humour. In business he was best known for his association with the prestigious Kenneth Ryden and Company, Chartered Surveyors and property management specialists, where he was senior partner for 13 years.

In sport he played a major role in cricket in Scotland as President, and later Chair, of the Scottish Cricket Union, as well as being the main driving force for many years at Watsonians Cricket Club, where he captained the 1st XI and served as President. Also heavily involved in the Watsonian Squash Club, he helped considerably in updating their facilities and in 1986 became President of the parent Watsonian Club. His winter sporting interest centred on Hearts, where he was a longtime season ticket holder.

A member of the Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh since 1960, Brian acted as Chair of Trustees for 28 years, during which time he transformed the Club’s ailing fortunes, making it a successful progressive organisation thanks to his business acumen, and leadership skills which enabled him to get the best out of people. For many years as an important figure in the Merchant Company, he held office as Treasurer before being Master in 2003-05, when he succeeded the Princess Royal, who held him in high regard.

In his understated way Brian supported several charities and good causes, including setting up the Riada Trust – Adair spelled backwards – which helped a large number of charities and individuals throughout Scotland and the UK.

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Brian was born at Daffodil Street in Hammersmith, London, the youngest of three children of Robert Adair MBE, a civil servant, and his wife Daisy,nee Perrin. The family were Plymouth Brethren which resulted in a fairly strict upbringing. Although sport and entertainment were not championed, undoubtedly a strong sense of values was nurtured. With his parents, and siblings Doreen and Robin, in 1939 Brian moved to Edinburgh, where the family settled in a house in Colinton Road. Brian attended nearby George Watson’s College from 1940-1953, where he was squash champion and a member of the 1st XI. After school he was with a Chartered Accountants office for a short time before, in 1954, doing National Service with the RAF as a wireless technician in various locations, including Turnhouse and Dyce.

On demob in 1956 Brian began an apprenticeship with a chartered surveyors and then took a correspondence course in estate management, leading to his qualifying as chartered surveyor in 1960 when he joined Kenneth Ryden in his new company in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He developed expertise in the property business as he climbed the ladder, becoming senior partner in 1974 until his nominal retirement in 1989.

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Brian then set up Ryden Lettings, which he built up successfully to be Edinburgh’s largest company specialising in residential property management. After selling that in 2013, he invested in another venture with the purchase of New Grange farm at Erroll, Perthshire, where he immersed himself in the world of agriculture.

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A huge cricket enthusiast, the game occupied a large part of Brian’s life. An outstanding all-rounder, between 1953 and 1987 he played 817 games for Watsonians 1st XI, scored a record 13,087 runs and took 664 wickets, was captain for eight seasons and President for seven. He was instrumental in bringing top overseas players to Watsonians, the best known being the Australian Test star Kim Hughes. Myreside and other venues were the scene of many happy memories for him and his family, both sporting and socially. Brian’s contribution to his club was invaluable.

As President and Chair of the Scottish Cricket Union in 1983 and ’86 he was a major influence while emphasising the sport’s essence for him: “Friendships made playing the game last a lifetime.” Later, by fronting a successful legal challenge against cricket and other amateur sports clubs paying business rates on their premises, Brian made an enormous contribution not only to cricket but amateur sport generally as exemption from business rates for every amateur sports club in Scotland was later enshrined in legislation. His lifelong enthusiasm for the game was reflected in his supporting Watsonians at their Scottish Cup final in Ayr in August and Scotland against Zimbabwe in Edinburgh in September.

Brian joined the Royal Scots Club principally as it was a handy lunch venue, but became the mastermind of its upward fortunes. He introduced a management plan, sold part of the premises for capital, used basement space for development of a fitness club, reacquired the sold premises at half the price for conversion to bedrooms and instigated a successful membership drive leading to a £1 million plus annual turnover.

He also gave sterling service to the Merchant Company where his professional expertise was a great asset to the Company’s properties portfolio, while his people skills and innate good sense enhanced the work of their Charitable Trusts and Schools. During the Princess Royal’s tenure as Master he provided considerable assistance behind the scenes.

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In 1966 Brian married Mona Lindsay, a social worker to whom he was introduced by a friend. They enjoyed 55 years of happy family life together with children Robin and Carolyn.

A gregarious man, he was the life and soul of parties, usually with a glint of mischief in his eyes. In notes left behind, he simply said: "Just been very lucky in life.” The same could be said for his family and all who knew Brian.

He is survived by his wife, children and grandson Miles.

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