Doctor Forbes Macpherson CBE

Leader in business and public service in Scotland

Born 23 May 1926

Died 16 December 2017

Forbes Macpherson who has died aged 91, packed into his long life a remarkable contribution to business and public service in Scotland and his native city of Glasgow in particular.

Doctor John Hannah Forbes Macpherson CBE, D Univ, OStJ, CA was born in Burnside on the outskirts of Glasgow on 23 May 1926, the son of John Hannah Macpherson, shipowner of the Gart Line and Whimster & Co, and his wife, Anne. Starting school at Glasgow Academy, he went to Merchiston Castle School in 1940, leaving in 1943. He had begun an apprenticeship with Wilson Stirling and Co, Chartered Accountants in Glasgow but in January 1944 he joined the Navy through the RNVR, training for Combined Operations.

He sailed to Hong Kong – very slowly - in a US built large landing craft, LCI (L) 123, and as a very young Sub Lieutenant RNVR took the ship on patrols to Macao and up Chinese rivers. In 1945 he was sailing towards Singapore to land troops to fight the Japanese when they surrendered following the dropping of the atomic bombs. Instead, he was involved in the re-occupation of Singapore and the release of Allied prisoners of war. He returned home in January 1947 on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.

Resuming his CA apprenticeship he qualified in 1949 and became a partner in Wilson Stirling and Co in 1956. Ten years later he was elected Managing Partner. He retired from the firm, by then part of Touche Ross, in 1986.

He launched into public service through his chairmanship in 1965 of Glasgow Junior Chamber of Commerce, then one of the largest Chambers in Europe. From this platform he became a Trustee of Glasgow Savings Bank in 1967 and its Chairman in 1973. Eventually through privatisation, he was Chairman of TSB Bank Scotland plc for ten years from 1984, a Director of the national TSB Group plc and Deputy Chairman of Hill Samuel Bank Limited.

Between 1969 and 1972 he joined the Boards of East Kilbride Development Corporation, Scottish Mutual Assurance and Scottish Industrial Estates Corporation where, as Chairman, he complained that the Corporation could not obtain sufficient supplies of steel to meet the demand for advance factories. In 1976 he was appointed Chairman of Irvine Development Corporation, followed by the chairmanship of the Neurological Sciences Research Trust at the Southern General Hospital in 1979.

With his vast experience he was a most successful President of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce between 1980 and 1981 when Glasgow’s renaissance began, highlighted by the “Glasgow’s Miles Better” initiative. His dedication to service was recognised soon afterwards by the award of a CBE in 1983.

After retirement Forbes continued with a host of voluntary commitments such as the Court of the University of Glasgow where he was appointed Chancellor’s Assessor. This culminated in the award of an honorary degree by the University. In 2003 he was still helping the University by chairing the Veterinary School Development Fund. He supported his old school, Merchiston, as a Governor from 1988 and in the same year was involved heavily in the creation of the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall through Glasgow Cultural Enterprises Limited.

A major commitment arose in 1995 when he was elected and served for two years as Lord Dean of Guild of the ancient Merchants House of Glasgow. As titular second ranking citizen of Glasgow, he paved the way for the admission of women to the Merchants House, the first lady member being the Princess Royal. Forbes set up a company, Ship Venture Limited, to manage the John Burnet designed Merchant House building in George Square and assisted the Lord Provost and City Council in myriad civic duties.

Many were the charities on which he served, including Hutchesons’ Hospital as Preceptor and the Bellahouston Bequest Fund as Chairman, The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice and Glasgow Citizens Theatre Limited.

In all of this whirlwind of activity he relied on and was supported by his wife, Margaret (nee Roxburgh) whom he married in 1959. He was devoted to her and his son, John, Andrena, John’s wife and their three children, Áine, Freya and Charlie. He was so glad that they were all settled close by in Bearsden, particularly in his later years when he could share in all of their activities.

Complete integrity was the hallmark of all Forbes’s dealings in business and public service. Meticulous, well prepared, shrewd and apparently tireless, he loved driving an agenda to a practical conclusion. He was an inspiration to many who have followed him into service to city and country.