Born: October 23, 1964;

Died November 3, 2022.

A HUNDRED people packed into a hall for an unpredictable Annual General Meeting of the Charing Cross Housing Association, in Glasgow's West End, one day in 1989. There was tension in the air.

Some of the committee rebels actively encouraged ethnic minorities to join the association so that they could have some influence and improve their dire housing circumstances. The “Old Guard '' did not like it, even though they espoused “equal opportunities”. I was also in a bit of a “hostile environment” for asking awkward questions. Only one person smiled encouragement. His name was Alasdair Aird McKee.

Alasdair, who has died at the age of 58, rose to become Chair of Positive Action in Housing, the Glasgow-based refugee homelessness charity, in late 2021. True to form, he spent time making sure that everyone who wanted to speak was heard.

Alasdair was born in 1964 in Kilwinning, a small town in North Ayrshire, 21 miles southwest of Glasgow. He and his younger sister, Fiona, experienced tragedy early in life when, aged seven and five respectively, their mother died at the age of just 30.

Alasdair’s grandfather, Wilbur Lavalette, had been born in India, in a family of French Huguenot refugees. In the early 1930s, he left Kolkata and travelled to Glasgow, where he trained as a Church of Scotland minister and met and married a Scottish woman.

Being a minister, a migrant from India and a refugee family meant he was deeply committed to ecumenism, with strong values of social justice and independent thinking. These values were shared across the family and were reflected in their various career choices: Alasdair’s dad, Andrew, was a social worker, his mother a nursery teacher, and Alasdair himself would reflect these deeply-held values in his work in the housing field.

He attended Kilwinning Academy between 1977 and 1982. He lived his life from a young age; in 1980, aged just 16, he became chair of Irvine Youth CND.

He joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) at Glasgow University and was on their national student committee. Recalling this period of his life, he said: “Being involved in the SWP was 110% full on, and I don’t regret it for a minute. We did some amazing campaigns during Thatcher’s era, the miners' strike, et cetera. I spoke at universities from Aberdeen to Swansea.”

Michael Lavalette, his cousin, remembers: “We grew up together and spent most weekends at family gatherings. We were at Glasgow University around the same time, and he was very politically active, and so was I, but he often harangued me (kindly!) to do more. When I was working for the council in Aberdeen and getting a fair bit of hassle for being a shop steward, he went out of his way to get a car and run me from Ardrossan to Stirling to get the Aberdeen train. The whole way, we were discussing politics, and Donny Gluckstein's book on the Western Soviets.”

A driven person, Alasdair spent the holidays from 1984 onwards working at the Centre for Housing Research. He completed an MA Honours at Glasgow University, and went on to complete his Housing Diploma at Stirling University.

In 1992, aged 28, he became CEO of Glen Oaks Housing Association. Together with the late Pat McGinlay MBE, they drove forward their plan for improving the lives of tenants in Arden, Darnley and Pollok,

In 1996 Alasdair married Diane, whom he had met in 1982 when both students, in the University of Glasgow’s CND group. They went on to have two daughters, Kirsty and Morna. They were passionate about singing and playing with their band MacBlondie – a real family affair. Diane was lead vocalist. His cousin Heather’s husband, Mark, was the drummer. Friends Andy and his son Liam made up the line-up on guitars. Finally, Alasdair himself played bass guitar, while looking after the band. They played countless charity gigs.

In 2005, Glen Oaks H.A. was the only Scots firm to make The Inner City 100, a yearly index from the New Economics Foundation which pinpoints and celebrates the fastest-growing inner-city businesses in the UK. Staff and committee members met the then Chancellor Gordon Brown in a reception at Downing Street.

In 2007, Alasdair and his Board brought in celebrity interior designers Colin and Justin to give Arden a makeover for a Channel 5 show. When the show attracted criticism, Alasdair defended the project, saying: "Arden has a lot to be proud of and a great community spirit. If it shows that it badly needs some new investment so that new and better homes can be built, that is all to the good."

Amongst his committee roles, Alasdair was a member of SHARE, Greater Pollok CAB, and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. In 2017, he became a trustee of Positive Action in Housing, and Chair late last year.

Alasdair would remind me to not work too hard and about the importance of getting sleep and exercise. He talked openly about the struggles of balancing work and focusing his free time on being a father, husband, bass-guitar player, and swimmer. He concluded by saying: “Reality is that many people don’t see mental health as just as important as physical health. We are all born equal; things happen to us, and that influences how we deal with things.”

In May of this year, I met with him and two others for a working lunch to discuss a forthcoming strategic day. We walked down West Nile Street on a beautiful sunny day. He suddenly stopped in the street and said, "it’s 12 Noon, let’s take a selfie for my photo journal": every day at the same time, he stopped what he was doing and took a selfie of himself and anyone else he was with to capture this moment in time and the look back on it.

Some people coast through life for an easier time. Alasdair McKee was like that line from the movie Sling Blade: “He lives inside of his own heart. And that’s an awfully big place to live in.”

A minute’s silence was held by an audience of 100 at our 27th AGM in Glasgow City Chambers, last Friday, November 4, in memory of Alasdair

Alasdair is survived by Diane, Kirsty and Morna; his father, Andy, for whom he was planning a 90th birthday in a few weeks' time; and his sister, Fiona. Funeral details will be announced in due course.


Robina Qureshi