Scotland’s oldest man

Born: March 29, 1908;

Died: August 4, 2019.

Anyone with aspirations to longevity might take the advice of Alf Smith, who was Scotland’s oldest man, and the joint oldest in the UK, until he passed away in Perthshire at the age of 111. Eat your porridge, support your church, quit smoking by the time you’re 80 and keep a good sense of humour, he recommended. Oh and, remain optimistic: When he bought a new washing machine at the age of 100, he insisted it had a 10-year extended warranty. And he went on to outlive that warranty.

Mr Smith became the oldest man in Scotland following the death of Tom MacIver on April 18, 2014. Along with Englishman Bob Weighton, he became the joint-oldest man in the UK after the death of another Englishman, John Mansfield, on November 27, 2016. Mr Smith and Mr Weighton sent each other birthday cards every year, and exchanged phone calls, including on their 111th birthday last March. Mr Weighton’s card to Mr Smith that day read: “One more year goes by and I hope you (Mr Smith and his daughter) are both well and able to enjoy the celebrations. Do keep in touch, I wish we had known about each other earlier.” He signed off: “We've done it.”

When Mr Smith died on August 4, he had lived 111 years, 128 days. Neither he nor Mr Weighton knew the exact time of their birth so neither knew precisely who was the elder but Mr Weighton liked to say that, although they had never met, he considered his Scottish pen pal “like a twin brother to me.” When asked for his own secret for longevity, Mr Weighton quipped: “avoiding dying.” Mr Weighton is now officially Britain’s oldest man.

Alfred Smith was born in Invergowrie, Perthshire (now Perth and Kinross), on the northwest banks of Firth of Tay, on March 29, 1908, during the lasts days of Glasgow-born British Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as British prime minister. The fifth of six sons of farmers John and Jessie Smith, Alf, as he was always known, attended Ivergowrie Primary School and Harris Academy in Dundee. He was only 19 when he and one of his brothers emigrated to Canada in 1927 but, after the death of their father, he returned in 1932 to help run the family farm and drive lorries for his brother George.

In 1937, he married Isobel Harper and together they ran Goukton farm at Kinfauns, on the river Tay just east of Perth, eventually raising two children, Irene and Allan. On the outbreak of World War Two, Mr Smith joined the Home Guard where he would serve throughout the war before returning fulltime to the farm. At the end of the war, he joined St Madoes and Kinfauns Parish Church which he would attend for most of the rest of his life, becoming an elder in 1967. He officially retired from the farm in 1978 but continued to help out.

In 2017, when he was 109, the then Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Rev Dr Russell Barr, presented him with a long-service certificate.

The Minister at St Madoes and Kinfauns, the Rev Marc Bircham said: “Alf was hugely popular with the local primary school children who loved visiting him to hear stories from his younger days. He was a wonderful character who brought great joy to all who had the privilege of knowing him. He was just an incredible individual – one of the most wonderful people you could ever meet."

Mr Smith was never much of a drinker and had given up wee drams altogether years ago. But last year Perth and Kinross Council presented him with a bottle of whisky. His daughter Irene Noble said later: “He doesn’t drink now, but last year, I walked into the kitchen and I could hear this glugging noise from the living room. I came back through and found he had opened the bottle himself and taken a wee swig.”

Mr Smith’s wife Isobel died in 2003, aged 97, after 66 years of marriage. Their son Allan, also a farmer, passed away in 2016. Mr Smith is survived by his daughter Irene. He had lived alone in his St Madoes home until he had a fall in 2016 and moved in with Irene. He had another fall two days before he died, was treated at Perth Royal Infirmary but was back at home with Irene when he passed away early on August 4. He had been born on a Sunday and died on one.

Once asked about his longevity, he said: “Porridge is helpful and having a job you enjoy. I like to think I’ve lived a decent life. I do ask myself – why me? Why have I lived so long when others haven’t?”