The town of Selkirk has lost one of its true champions with the death of Jim Newlands. A former Provost of the Royal & Ancient Burgh, he died at his Mavis Bank home on 24 July. There were few, if any, aspects of life in the community to which Jim Newlands did not make a positive contribution. His style was always to lead from the front, be it teaching in class, presiding at the Sheriff Court, captaining Selkirk’s rugby team or taking a leading role at the town’s Common Riding.
The son of Galashiels bus driver John Newlands and his wife Barbara, who hailed from Selkirk, Jim was born in 1937 at his family’s Curror Street home. Educated at Knowepark School and Selkirk High School, he left at 15 to take up an apprenticeship with Adam Purves Engineering in Galashiels.
Rugby was one of Jim’s lifelong passions, and he captained the Selkirk Youth Club team that won the Border Semi-Junior League title in 1956.
Called up for National Service in 1958, he joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and served with the regiment in a still-divided Berlin. His prowess on the rugby field saw him selected for the KOSB team that lifted the Army Cup in 1959 – the first time it had been won by a regiment stationed in Berlin.
Jim’s duties in Berlin included guarding Nazi detainees in Spandau prison, and on one occasion he was part of the bodyguard assigned to protect former Prime Minister Clement Attlee when he visited the city.
After returning to the Borders, Jim married Esther Innes (known to all as Bunty). The couple were married in Selkirk’s Heatherlie Church in 1962. Jim’s best man was boyhood pal Billy Fleming, and exactly a year later he would take the same role at Billy’s own wedding.
Jim, who played at number eight, captained Selkirk Rugby Club’s 1st XV in season 1961/62, and teammate Bert Duffy recalls: “Jim was a good all-round player and led by example. His enthusiasm for the game never waned.”
Jim entered the teaching profession after taking a degree at Napier University, going on to lecture in engineering – first at Dalkeith’s Esk Valley College and then at Galashiels College of Further Education.
In 1969 he enrolled at Moray House to obtain additional teaching qualifications, graduating with honours. He spent the next 19 years as a teacher at Galashiels Academy, initially teaching mathematics before switching to technical teaching. He was promoted to Assistant Principal Teacher in 1979. His next teaching post was at Selkirk High School, where he joined the technical education department, rising to become Principal Teacher in 1986. He retired from the job in 1996.
Away from the classroom, one of Jim’s greatest passions was Selkirk Common Riding, and in particular the role in its history played by the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermen. He cast the Hammermen’s flag in 1981 – the Incorporation’s tercentenary year – and served as the Hammermen’s Deacon from 1983 until 1989. The Incorporation’s current Deacon, Alan Tough, had nothing but praise for his predecessor: “Jim was someone everyone in our organisation looked up to, and along with Campbell Bunyan was one of the Hammermen’s two life members.
"He reinvigorated the Incorporation at a time when the number of active members had begun to dwindle.” Provost of Selkirk from 1997-2001, Jim’s oratory skills and extensive knowledge of local history and folklore saw him in great demand. As Provost, he took a central role in Alastair Moffat’s 1999 Border TV documentary on Selkirk Common Riding, The Long Riders.
Later that year he gave the oration at Flodden – the same year that he was sworn in as an Honorary Sheriff of the Selkirk Court – and delivered Jethart’s Redeswire address. He was also principal speaker at Melrose Festival’s Abbey ceremony. Selkirk’s current Honorary Provost, Keith Miller, said Jim set an incredibly high standard for others to follow: “His knowledge of Selkirk and its history was unrivalled, and over the years he proved a wonderful ambassador for the town.”
Known for the passion and erudition of his “Immortal Memory” toasts, in 2000 Jim was invited to give the opening speech at the World Burns Federation’s conference at Peebles Hydro. A keen writer, as well as compiling The History of the Hammermen, he co-authored Flo’ers of the Forest with Walter Elliot and Dr John Gilbert, and wrote the novel Return To Dunsdale, set in the time of Flodden.
Jim somehow managed to find time for a ten-year spell as Sunday School teacher at the Congregational Church; to become a founder member and reader for the Borders Talking Newspaper for the Blind; as well as to serve as an SSAFA armed forces charity case worker, helping to make old soldiers’ lives more comfortable.
His affection for the KOSB never wavered throughout his life. As well as chairing the annual reunions, he regularly attended the regiment’s Minden Day celebrations at Berwick, on one occasion being presented to Princess Anne.
Above all, Jim treasured his family, telling Bunty their love “would echo down through the corridors of eternity”.
There cannot have been many Souters who have done as much to promote and enhance the wellbeing and stature of the Selkirk community, or who packed as much into their lives, as Jim Newlands. Plain-speaking, fair-minded, a man whose integrity and expertise won him respect in the Borders and beyond, his was a life well lived.
He is survived by Bunty, daughter Jane and son Gordon, daughter-in-law Helen and granddaughters Lynsey and Emily.
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