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Lord Clydesmuir

Rt Hon Lord Clydesmuir, KT, CB, MBE, TD; born May 21, 1917, died October 2, 1996. RONALD John Bilsland Colville was an outstanding and dedicated servant of Scotland. He was a gentleman of the old school with a genial wit and great generosity of spirit.

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It is a mark of his energy and the breadth of his interests that no single activity or organisation can be taken as symbolic of his life's work. It is something of a cliche to say that he will be mourned by everyone who knew him, yet if it is true of anyone it is true of Ronald Clydesmuir. He was born in Glasgow, a great-grandson of David Colville, the founder of David Colville and Sons, a company which was to become the dominant force in the Scottish steel industry. He was educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College Cambridge, graduating BA in economics in 1939. During the Second World War he served with the Cameronians and was awarded the MBE in despatches. He retained his association with the Cameronians after war service and commanded the regiment's TA Battalion from 1953 to 1956. In 1947 he joined Colvilles and became a director in 1958. He also held directorships in the Scottish Provident, Scotbits Securities, The Scottish Western Investment Company, and the British Linen Bank. In 1966 he became governor of the British Linen and, on the Linen's merger with the Bank of Scotland in 1971, he became deputy governor of the Bank of Scotland and governor of the bank the following year, a post he held until 1981. During his time as governor of the bank he was also a director of Barclays Bank. Aside from his many business interests Lord Clydesmuir played a full part in the public life of Scotland. He was Captain General of the Queen's Bodyguard in Scotland and, until 1992, the Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire. In addition to a succession of appointments in the Territorial Army Association he was, at various times, chairman of the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation, the Scottish Playing Fields Association, and the Scottish Outward Bound Association. Perhaps his most enduring commitment to any voluntary organisation was his involvement with the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). He joined the council's executive committee in 1954, became chairman in 1966, and president in 1972, an office held until 1986. In his early days with the council Lord Clydesmuir took a leading role in the organisation and promotion of the council's industrial exhibitions at the Kelvin Hall. These events were enthusiastically supported, not only by the industrial community but by the public in general. As well as parading the achievements of Scottish industry there was always a full programme of entertainments in the arena. In those pre-television days the events drew large crowds. The popularity of the industrial exhibition made a substantial contribution to the council's financial health until the late sixties. During his time as chairman of the council Lord Clydesmuir took a particular interest in export promotion. He led the council's first ever mission, which went to Moscow, and, by happy coincidence, the last mission he led was also to Moscow in 1985. The 1985 trip turned into something of a cloak and dagger affair since it coincided with an episode of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats following the defection of Soviet master-spy Oleg Gordievsky. Things were not helped by the newly-appointed Mikhail Gorbachev banning strong drink, including Scotch whisky, at public receptions. None of this perturbed Lord Clydesmuir in the slightest. After all, he had led the first British trade mission to communist China a few years earlier. The charm simply went into overdrive, suitably lubricated by the mission's private and probably illicit supply of Scotch. Over the years Lord Clydesmuir led missions and attended trade fairs in many parts of the world, winning awards for Scottish products, winning new customers for Scottish industry, and by sheer force of his personality winning many friends for Scotland. As well as leading Scotland's industry overseas, he was equally effective leading the council at home. If he had a fault it was a tendency to be over-tactful. He was in the chair for a particularly animated meeting at the height of the devolution debate in the late seventies. Then, as now, great efforts were being made by some of those present to commit the council for or against devolution. It looked increasingly likely that the matter would go to a vote with the attendant risk of splitting the council forever. For the first time anyone could remember Lord Clydesmuir looked tense. Just as matters were reaching a climax one elderly member who was hard of hearing, mistook the order of business, stood up, and made an impassioned speech against the Channel Tunnel and the risk of rabies. Lord Clydesmuir let him continue for quite a while. By the time he had finished the devolutionary passion was spent and it was agreed that the matter be remitted to some future meeting. Although retired from the council, Lord Clydesmuir continued to attend the annual forum where he was always received with great respect and affection. He will be missed in many walks of public life but especially by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry).

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