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Charles Grant Gordon

Whisky executive.

Born: July 21, 1927; Died: December 21, 2013

Charles Grant Gordon, who has died aged 86, was a whisky executive who, together with his brother Sandy, built the family's drinks business, William Grant & Sons Ltd, into one of the leading independent companies in the industry. He first told his father that he wanted to be a distiller when he was six years old and then spent 80 more years of his life on this great endeavour.

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He was born in Glasgow, the eldest son of William Grant Gordon, distiller, and Janet Grant, a doctor. His brother Alexander, to whom he was close all his life, was born four years later.

At the time, the family lived on Bearsden Road and the young Charles attended the local primary school. His father was devoted to him and they spent much time together, with his father explaining the whisky business to him. He then attended Glasgow Academy and Ardvreck boarding school in Crieff before continuing his education at Rugby in Warwickshire during the first years of the Second World War. From the dormitories at night, he could see fires burning far away in Coventry after the Germans bombed the city.

Always close to his two aunts, Janet Sheed Roberts and Elizabeth Gordon, he spent many of his holidays with them at Hazelwood, Craigellachie in Dufftown. Indeed, this was where he was evacuated in August 1939 at the outbreak of the war, and later spent all of his holiday time, before leaving school and joining the Navy.

On joining up in June 1945, he was despatched to the Mediterranean aboard the cruiser Sussex. He served on various vessels based out of Malta, keeping the convoys going and replenishing submarines, before returning to the UK aboard Illustrious in January 1948.

On returning to Scotland, he studied accounting at Glasgow University and became a chartered accountant in May 1951. Following this, he joined the family firm on November 5 1951.

He had always been close to his father and knew a fair bit about the family business, William Grant & Sons, so had a good head start. He also benefited from some training at the beginning of his career with Hugh Baird (maltsters), North British (grain distillers), and Linkwood malt distillery. His first assignment was to go to Glenfiddich Distillery and find out, in the words of his father, "what the hell was happening" and get on with the rebuilding of the distillery.

However, it was not long before catastrophe struck when his father died on June 5 1953 at the age of 53, placing a great responsibility on the eldest son. He became a director of the company two weeks later and he was joined on the board by other family members.

During these difficult times, he was also courting his wife-to-be, Margaret Louise Eccles. She was a radiographer working at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and they were married in 1954.

He was supported by Sandy who joined the business in 1954, and through thick and thin, they tackled all the problems that confronted them. The business was not a large one, partly because the company refused to get involved in any bootlegging activities during pre-war prohibition. This meant the challenges were greater, but on a positive note the taxman did not destroy the succession with the inheritance taxes that destroyed many other Scottish family businesses during this era.

In 1953, Mr Gordon travelled to the US to begin his expansion plans. The US represented 50% of company sales at that time, and the market seemed limitless. There was much work to be done, and he travelled extensively during the 1950s, often accompanied by Louise. One trip to Africa in late 1955 took place when Louise was pregnant, with their eldest son Grant Edward Gordon. Their second and third sons, Grant Glenn Gordon and Lloyd Grant Gordon, followed.

The new Paisley bottling plant was opened in 1960 and Girvan distillery was built in 1963. Girvan was built in a record eight months with the first distillation taking place on Christmas Day 1963 - 76 years to the day after the family's first distillery, Glenfiddich, began distillation in 1887.

Girvan was a labour of love for Mr Gordon and to make it happen he lived for long periods during 1963 in a caravan on the site. His bicycle was a regular sight at the distillery as he pedalled all over and helped the project take shape. It is said more than 1500 bottles of whisky were distributed to help encourage the builders to meet their deadlines.

He was also focused on the international development of the brands. In 1960, a decision was taken to launch Glenfiddich "Straight" Malt internationally, despite all the industry sceptics who laughed at this move. This was the beginning of the single malt category as it is known today. In 1964, Mr Gordon also spearheaded the acquisition of Popper Morson Inc, an American import house that owned the Clan Macgregor brand which was the largest on the East Coast.

In 1969, the family moved to Belgium where Mr Gordon began to focus more exclusively on the international development of the business, while his brother took over as managing director in Scotland. He also developed a significant mature whisky business working closely with his trusted friend and colleague, Maurice Gee.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the development of the company continued. Mr Gordon travelled constantly, devoting much of his time to growing the business in North and South America. He also remained intensely involved in packaging and new brand development. The 1990s began with the construction of the new bottling plant and customer service centre at Bellshill, Lanarkshire. Later in the 1990s, Hendrick's Gin was launched and Sailor Jerry Rum.

Mr Gordon became chairman of the company following the retirement of Dr Chris Greig who had succeeded Sandy and in this role he pressed on with numerous initiatives. Among other projects, Ailsa Bay distillery was built in Girvan, and the Reyka Vodka distillery was built in Iceland. In 2008, Mr Gordon became life president when he handed over the chairmanship of the family business to his nephew, Peter Gordon.

Following the death of his first wife, he married Francesca Canales. He pursued philanthropic initiatives and some research on the family history. He was also a sailor.

He is survived by his family, including Francesca, his three sons, and his nine grandchildren.

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