Born: January 27, 1934;

Died: July 18, 2022.

ROBERT CLOW’S remarkable life, which has ended with his death at the age of 88, included being interned in a Japanese concentration camp at the age of eight in 1942, a time during the Second World War when he went six years as a child in various parts of China without seeing or hearing from his Christian missionary parents.

Many years later, when Clow rose to become the managing director and driving force behind John Smith’s chain of bookshops, and a successful campaigner for the preservation of some of Glasgow’s most famous old buildings, he never forgot the perils of his early life, nor the gruesome tragedy of his forebears.

China was a political maelstrom in the early years of the 20th century, and Clow knew it only too well.

Born Robert George Menzies Clow in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, in 1934 to Menzies and Elizabeth Clow, who were Scottish Baptist medical missionaries, he soon came to grasp the perilous fate of their lives. His grandmother was also a Baptist missionary, as was her brother, Dr William Wilson, who was also working in China in those years.

William, his wife and their 10-month old son were publicly beheaded in Taiyuan in 1900, amid a purge against Christians during the so-called Boxer Rebellion.

William had written a final letter to his sister, which reached her in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, in which he wrote: “We are surrounded here tonight. The Governor wants our lives and our death warrants have arrived. We leave our boys, James and Willie, to your safe keeping. Our hope is in God and we are ready to [die]. Farewell, my dear sister…”

In his early years in China, and soon to be separated from his parents for six years, Robert spoke Mandarin before he learned English.

From the age of five until he was 11, war having broken out, he went six years without seeing either parent, being shunted from one guardian to the next.

In 1942, with Japan entering the war, he found himself moved to the Japanese-run Weihsien concentration camp, which he survived.

American troops eventually rescued Robert along with other children and he was first taken to Hong Kong on a US Navy ship, and finally back to Britain, to Southampton.

It was there that he spotted a man staring up from the docks at the huge ship, searching for a child. It was Robert’s father, seen again by him for a first time since 1938.

With the tumult of China and the war years behind him, Robert was abandoned once more when his parents returned with to their zeal to their overseas Christian missionary work. But a key moment in his life would soon come.

Jack Knox, who was managing director of John Smith & Sons of Glasgow, along with his two spinster sisters, became Robert’s guardians. Knox saw in Robert a natural curiosity and determination – born of years of sheer survival – and encouraged the school-leaving Clow to follow him into the book trade.

By the early 1970s Robert had risen to become John Smith’s new managing director, a dashing and charming figure who steered the company into different avenues of business. John Smith’s became Scotland’s largest bookshop and was a place of renown for Glasgow book lovers.

Robert, in quadrupling the business’s profits, pursued an expansion programme and helped found new university bookshops for Strathclyde, Paisley, Stirling and Dundee.

Yet Clow’s achievements were far from limited to the book trade. His interests were in classical music, singing, art, architecture, Scottish heritage and restoration.

He fell in love with Scottish castles and, indeed, bought one to restore himself – Aiket Castle, in Ayrshire – which became his home for 30 years from 1980. He also became a passionate civic campaigner in Glasgow.

He mounted a successful campaign in the city, opposing planned decking over the River Clyde to build a bus station. His vision was to preserve Glasgow’s riverside environment, to enrich the area with walkways, and he proved ahead of his time in this regard.

He also helped establish the New Glasgow Society, where more than 1,700 people turned out for its inaugural meeting. The NGS under Robert successfully promoted regeneration of Glasgow’s urban environment and quashed the planned wholesale destruction of its 19th-century buildings.

A particular success was his thwarting of the planned demolition of St Vincent Crescent, a distinguished neoclassical terrace in Glasgow, which today stands as an A-listed street but which had been on the brink of facing the wrecking ball.

Clow determinedly opposed what he saw as “the demolition philistinism” of the time.

He also served on the National Trust for Scotland, the Historic Buildings Trust,

the Architectural Heritage Society for Scotland and the First Glasgow Housing Association.

A sometime churchman – without ever having the faith conviction of his parents

– he was interested in theological issues and confessed to being captivated by fiery, articulate preaching.

Robert married Katrina Watson, a botanist, in 1967. They separated in 2011 and had no children.

In recent years he had vacated Aiket Castle to live in the nearby village of Dunlop, where ill health and, finally, dementia beset him. Over this past

summer he failed to recover from surgery for a broken hip and died peacefully in a care home near Glasgow on July 18.

He is survived by his ex-wife and by three siblings – Jean, Iain and David. A third brother, Bill, pre-deceased him.