Planner devoted to the economic development of the Highlands

Born: April 9 1959;

Died: September 19, 2017

CALUM Davidson, who has died of cancer aged 58, was a well-known regional planner and photographer who spent the majority of his working life in the development of the Highlands and Islands, latterly spearheading Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s (HIE) work to develop the energy sector.

Born in Caithness, with Aberdeenshire and north Sutherland connections, he was brought up in Thurso, Shetland, Glasgow and Inverness. He studied regional planning at the Glasgow School of Art and was very friendly with the new Glasgow Boys (an early Peter Howson has graced the wall of his family home in Cromarty since 1985). Many will remember Calum’s brother Kai, who was a stalwart of the Scottish alternative music scene until his early death in 2007.

After a number of years studying and working in the central belt, Mr Davidson and his beloved wife Ruth whom he married in 1979, were keen to move back to the Highlands where they settled in Cromarty. Mr Davidson took a planning post with the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) in 1985. Three sons, Charlie, Hamish and Magnus, were born over the next few years.

In 1959, the year Mr Davidson was born, the population of the Highlands and Islands was at its lowest for 200 years. It was fitting then that he would go on to work for the HIDB and HIE in a career devoted to the economic development of the region, including addressing the challenges of increasing the population.

Mr Davidson’s 30-year career within the regional development agency saw him take on a broad variety of roles – attracting new jobs and investment, broadband rollout and digital technologies, and sector development.

As head of knowledge economy in the 2000s, he led a team that forged a close working relationship with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off based in Dublin. This opened up opportunities to change how HIE and the region’s businesses viewed the global technology marketplace, where the constraints of geographic location could be overcome through technology.

Having witnessed Scotland fail to benefit fully from developing its onshore wind potential during the oil and gas boom years of the 1980s and 90s, Mr Davidson was determined that the Highlands and Islands should seize the day when it came to the emerging offshore renewables industry of the new century.

It was in the development of Scotland’s world-leading marine and offshore wind energy sectors that he arguably made his most significant contribution to the region he loved. Forever busy, he was a member of the Scottish Government’s Energy Advisory Board and on the board of the Brussels-based Ocean Energy Europe and the Westminster Marine Advisory Board. A regular visitor to Washington DC and Ottawa, he worked with the US and Canadian departments of energy to develop financial models to facilitate the commercial deployment of tidal arrays. No one was more surprised than Calum Davidson to find that he had become a global expert on the complex financial mechanics of the tidal energy industry.

Mr Davidson’s positivity, tireless energy and renowned ability to solve problems creatively were recognised by colleagues, politicians, government and the industry itself. In November last year, one of the first tidal turbines being deployed in the Pentland Firth off Caithness – the world’s first commercial-scale tidal array – was named in his honour. The following week, his outstanding contribution to the industry was recognised, to great applause, at the national Green Energy Awards.

Tim Cornelius of Atlantis Resources, the company behind the Meygen tidal project, said of Calum: “He is one of the reasons why Scotland leads the world in tidal energy development. To be in this industry, you need to be resilient, tenacious, dedicated and determined. Combine that with humility and a heart the size of Scotland, and you have a pretty accurate description of him.”

Both inside and outside of work, Mr Davidson was well known for his talent as a photographer. His portfolio was as eclectic as his taste in music, which included Martyn Bennett and Icelandic choral music. His ability to capture the moment was just as talented when photographing treasured family gatherings and vibrant sunsets as the ‘big metal objects’ to which he found himself so drawn. He was delighted to open up the Scottish Government’s 2014 white paper on Scottish independence to find one of his oil rig photographs illustrating the industry chapter.

Above all, Calum Davidson was known as a family man. He was immensely proud of the achievements of his wife, three grown-up sons and the expanding family as they settled down with their partners. The birth of his first grandson James to Charlie and Sarah brought him much joy, and the fact he lived long enough to meet granddaughter Katie, born in May this year, was an unexpected and very happy milestone for all the family. During his illness, the only regrets he voiced were not having the chance to grow old with his high school sweetheart Ruth and knowing that he would not be able to watch his grandchildren growing up. Calum Davidson is also survived by his elderly parents and two sisters.

The sudden diagnosis of his illness in 2016 came as a shock to all who knew Calum Davidson. With characteristic pragmatism, he quickly set about organising his affairs at home and work. And never one to miss an opportunity for publicity he even managed a few more newspaper columns and blogs.

Although it was a difficult time for the family, the grace and bravery with which they handled the news and subsequent months of illness left all around them in awe. Mr Davidson's main concern was ensuring that he left things in good order for Ruth and his sons, including a manual for some of the quirky ways and means of keeping everything in order in a 300-year-old house in Cromarty and his parents’ croft in Caithness.

Knowing he had made a difference to his family, friends, colleagues and the region and country he loved so much was very much on his mind in his final months. With a successful, almost 40-year marriage, a strong and growing Davidson family, The Calum Davidson marine energy turbine, generating clean electricity in the Pentland Firth and thousands of photographs and articles in his name, there seems no doubt that he has made a lasting legacy.