Just before John Neil embarked on his career as a livestock auctioneer, his father, a working Ayrshire farmer, gave him some advice to help guide the young man through life.
Among other homilies, his father pointed out it takes a lifetime to make a reputation which can then be lost in a moment. “Always be straight and honest,” the young John was advised.
Then a few days later, on his arrival at Oliver’s market at Gorgie, Edinburgh, where he was to learn the trade of livestock auctioneering, he was shown around the market by the legendary auctioneer Bertie Brydon. Entering the auction ring he was asked if he saw anything on the wall. “Yes, a clock,” answered John, to which he received the following response from Brydon. “Don’t ever let me catch you looking at it.”
These and other down to earth pieces of advice were taken on by John and they helped guide him to becoming one of the top livestock auctioneers in the country and, marking the esteem in which he was held by colleagues, to chair the professional body representing auctioneers in Scotland.
He was educated at Crossroads Primary School, then Glaisnock House Senior Secondary, Cumnock, before heading home to the family farm in Ayrshire. There he worked with his father for the next six years, but his health suffered from the dust that causes Farmers’ lung; a disease that affects many who work on farms.
This helped him decide to seek a career away from home but still involving livestock and so in 1966, on his 21st birthday, he secured a position with Oliver’s, Edinburgh, as a trainee auctioneer for the princely sum of £250 per annum.
The very next day, in order to help him in his career, John’s father bought him a second-hand Ford 950cc Anglia Car. John was, in his own words, “like a dog with two tails with my very own car”.
During his time at home he had met Margaret Wilson, a farmer’s daughter and, although ten years passed before they married, the union produced two sons, Mark and Colin.
After three years learning the auctioneering trade in Edinburgh, John moved on to Wooler Livestock Auction Mart, where he built up a number of lifetime friendships.
Another move took him to Castle Douglas, where again his open manner and integrity saw him increase the number of customers, or as he preferred to call them, friends.
A number of other professional shifts followed and these included taking him and his family to Stirling before heading back to Castle Douglas. It was during his second spell at Castle Douglas that he realised his ambition to branch out on his own.
This was a brave move in a sector dominated by big organisations but John’s integrity and reputation helped make this venture a success; so much so that in 2008 he was awarded the Professional Adviser of the Year accolade.
On his 65th birthday in 2010, this precise and meticulous man sold his business to Davidson & Robertson, but remained a consultant to the day he fell ill.
From his early days as an auctioneer, he was involved in the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland. In the 1970s, this professional body was going through a tough time as meat buyers were moving away from buying from markets, preferring instead to buy finished cattle straight from the farm.
Despite this trend, John could see the benefits of belonging to the professional body and quickly moved from being an Associate member to being a Fellow and in 1998 he was elected President. Despite the legacy from BSE making life more difficult for the livestock sector, it was a position he relished. He was also proud that he was the only President to have taken up this post as an independent, not employed by a corporate company
Away from the auction ring and auctioneering politics, John enjoyed golfing and fishing with friends.
His family joked that his unique laugh meant they could always track him down. The laugh was described by some as “hearty”. Others saw it as “distinctive” – but whichever way it was defined, it helped identify John Alexander Neil, a man noted for his integrity.
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