RAF officer, businessman and honorary consul;
Born: June 19, 1921; Died: August 10, 2013.
Alastair Lean, who has died aged 92, was wartime squadron leader in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, a director of several Scottish businesses and a long-serving honorary consul for Finland. He was one of the last surviving members of a Glasgow merchant family whose 19th Century forebears had prospered in textiles, rubber and iron. He was also a proud Scot who believed that Scotland belonged firmly within the United Kingdom.
Born in Glasgow, the youngest child of a textile manufacturer, with mercantile roots on both sides of his family tree, he was educated at Loretto School in Musselburgh, where he became Head of School. In June 1940 in the aftermath of Dunkirk, while still a Loretto schoolboy, he enlisted in the RAF. He also took the entrance examination to study medicine at Clare College, Cambridge but had informed his father by letter that whether he should pass or fail he would be joining the RAF. He passed.
In 1942, he qualified as an RAF air observation navigator and was selected for further training in astronavigation and as a bomb aimer. On joining Coastal Command, he was posted to 204 Squadron in West Africa. The principal role of the squadron was to escort convoys and protect the ships from U-Boat attack. During his time in Africa, he was mentioned in dispatches and promoted, as the youngest officer on his station, to acting flight lieutenant. He later attained the rank of squadron leader.
After being sent home in 1943 with chronic malaria, from which he suffered for a long period after the war, he was posted to RAF Alness, a seaplane base near Invergordon, as a navigation instructor and underwent further training as a bombing leader. It was at this time, he invented the single quadrant assessor: an aid to gauging the accuracy of practice bombs dropped at sea. After refinements, the instrument entered general use.
During a trial of the assessor, he came close to losing his life. He and a colleague tossed a coin to decide which of them would observe from the launch and who would fly. Alastair Lean lost the toss and remained on the launch. On take-off, the aircraft climbed, then suddenly dropped, plunging into the Cromarty Firth with the loss of all on board.
Demobilised in 1946, Alastair Lean decided against seven years of medical studies - a decision he sometimes regretted - and instead joined the family textile firm, John Lean and Sons Ltd, based in Bridgeton in Glasgow. The firm enjoyed a significant market share of the cotton keffiyeh, or head-dress, in Middle Eastern markets. The post-war years were an uphill struggle for the Scottish textile industry, due to cheaper foreign imports flooding the market. With the voluntary liquidation of his family business in 1959 after 120 years in business, he became part-time director of the dyeing and bleaching firm United Turkey Red in Alexandria and overall manager of its subsidiary, Lennox Knitwear Ltd. He subsequently became a director of Grampian Textiles Ltd.
In the post-war period, he had forged links with Finland while exploring new markets there for the firm's textiles, and in 1967 founded his own company, Carse of Allan Ltd, to trade with the country, including importing and erecting Puutalo wooden kit houses, and importing Iittala glassware, Palaset storage units, Harjavalta joinery and Mallasjuoma (Finlandia) beer.
In 1981, Carse of Allan Ltd was sold and Lean became managing director (Scotland) for the re-employment counsellors, Pauline Hyde & Associates. He found the work of helping redundant managers and office staff to find new employment and regain self-respect hugely rewarding.
He was a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and served as chairman of the Savings Bank of Glasgow and of the Personnel Group of the TSB Central Board. He joined the Merchants' House of Glasgow in 1956, a charitable institution, becoming a director in 1985 and only retiring from the board in 2005, aged 84. In 1985 he was accepted into the Incorporation of Weavers of Glasgow. He was also a member of the Valuations Appeal Committee, Glasgow, and a General Commissioner for Income Tax. For his work for the TSB, he was made OBE in the Birthday Honours in 1971.
In 1973, he was appointed the Honorary Consul for Finland in the West of Scotland, a post he occupied until 1994 and was Dean of the Glasgow Consular Corps from 1987 to 1989, and Doyen of Finnish Consuls in the UK 1989-1994. For his distinguished service as Honorary Consul for Finland, he was made Knight 1st Class of the Order of the White Rose of Finland (SVR RI) in 1983, and Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland (SL K) on retirement from the post, in 1994. He then went on to compile a history As It Was In the Beginning….. Finnish Consular Representation in the United Kingdom 1919-1994.
Taught as a boy by his father, he was a keen shot and a lifelong supporter of field sports. Always happiest when being useful, he spent his latter years helping his wife, Sara, run her riding club and Dartmoor pony stud at Rumbling Bridge in Kinross, whilst he was still able, cutting grass and splitting logs.
He had been a keen supporter of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund throughout his life, showing great interest in what the fund was doing to support the wider RAF family who found themselves in need. The significant sum collected at his funeral was donated to the fund.
Married three times, he is survived by his first wife Iona and third wife Sara, by his son and two daughters from his first marriage, also by his three step-children. His second wife Anne died in 1998.
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