Joe Fletcher
Born: September 14, 1928;
Died: May 28, 2021

FOR decades he was known simply as Joe Kelvin, or Mr Kelvin.

Fishermen across Scotland knew there was one man they could always rely on night and day, seven days a week. He was the mainstay of Kelvin Marine Diesels, the firm that produced the engine that propelled Scotland’s trawlers.

Whatever the time of day or night, he was always available on ship-to-shore radio calls to deal with engineering matters.

Early in his career he also had the task of installing Kelvin Engines on Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, one of a series of similar installations he delivered all around the coast.

Born in Glasgow, Joe Fletcher led a rich and colourful life. Not one of privilege, but rather of privileges. He was the first to offer help and support to others, which he saw as a normal and sensible thing to do and, although he wouldn’t seek it, he would be delighted to get a simple “thank you” in return.

Joe Fletcher was a boy of his time. Born between the First and Second World Wars, he marvelled at technology, at engineering, at how things worked. Many years later, he was fascinated by smartphones. He went on to have one of his own, but he decided, why use his data and batteries when his son’s phone was available?

The son of a marine engineer, Joe, and Grace, a postwoman, he was a prankster. His mischievous smile carried him throughout life. Of course he could be serious and do grown-up things. But it didn’t do to be fooled by those twinkling eyes; he was always ten steps ahead of you.

His father was a talented writer and had a regular column in local newspapers. He witnessed the Clydebank Blitz in 1941 and that determined the family’s next move: evacuation from Glasgow to Rothesay. Joe Fletcher, his mother and his two sisters, Emma and Hetty, established home on Bute, where he went on to excel at Rothesay Academy.

He also played a role in the community, helping people, delivering groceries and occasionally exotic objects that were washed up on the shoreline from passing ships. Among them were oranges. He never knew where they came from, but they were there for the taking and Joe and his sisters distributed them to the good folk of Rothesay.

Last year he received an award from the Royal British Legion Scotland for his contribution to the war effort, supporting those less able by fetching and delivering. He became one of the fastest breadboard boys on a bike in all of Bute. 

HMS Cyclops, a Royal Navy submarine repair and depot ship, was based in the Rothesay bay during the war. It added to his admiration of marine engineering.

He followed his father into Bergius Kelvin in Glasgow and rose to become its sales and commercial manager, signing off deals for Kelvin engines around the world, from the Persian Gulf to China and Canada. He enjoyed a special bond with crews and yards in Egypt and with people in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

He also enjoyed repeated successes at the annual International Boat Show in London, where he showed his magical touch for sales: charm, that mischievous smile, and the ability to make every customer feel special.

For neighbours and friends, the family home was almost a branch of the UN. Visitors arrived from around the world, and it was most natural to have a smattering of languages incorporated into everyday conversation.

It continues that way even now. Days rarely go by without some Arabic, French, German or some other language flitting into conversations.

Across the UK and in particular, Scotland, his focus on the inshore and offshore fishing fleet was the stuff of legend.

Back in the day, as children, we became accustomed to fishermen calling the house-phone via something called “ship to shore radio”.  At the end of each sentence, you had to say “over”. My maternal grandfather refused to answer the house-phone because of this.

Ship-to-shore was never private. Because everyone at sea could hear it, my mother’s maiden ship-to-shore conversation concluded with the skipper saying: “You’ve done well, lass. And the whole fleet’s proud of you.” 

Beyond retirement, Joe Fletcher continued as an international marine engineering consultant, bringing the calm wisdom of years of experience. By now, of course, he had seen it all.

He advised and guided many people, including his parishioners in his role as a senior elder with the Church of Scotland.

When he married Allena McKechnie in 1955, the couple were regular weekend visitors to Loch Awe and Loch Etive. Joe maintained and managed the engines on cruisers including the Darthula, while Allena was the tour guide as the boats carried passengers through spectacular scenery.

My father enjoyed good health until recent years when he began to have a series of falls. Last year, he had a fall during the pandemic. In hospital, he contracted Covid-19 but, characteristically fought back. He made a recovery, and returned home. Recently, however, he was back in hospital and the family was called in to say farewell. For each of us, it was a poignant moment.

Joe Fletcher is survived by his wife Allena, their three children, and two grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter-in-law, Lyn.


Charles Fletcher