Scotland's greatest Highland Games athlete

Born: October 6, 1937;

Died: August 12, 2019

Bill Anderson who has died aged 81 was Scotland’s greatest ever Highland Games heavyweight athlete and a highly popular respected figure. In an honour laden career spanning 30 years, he won championships by the score, set innumerable records and lifted the standard of heavy events to unprecedented levels. His spectacular performances especially with hammer and caber enthused crowds and raised the Games’ profile. A determined but gracious competitor who always conducted himself well, his modest manner, innate decency, quiet sense of humour, companionable nature and sportsmanship endeared him to all.

Career highlights included winning the prestigious Scottish heavyweight championship at Crieff eighteen times [two shared with Arthur Rowe], his final success coming in 1987 aged nearly 50. He also claimed several British, European, Canadian, American and World heavyweight titles and numerous World Caber Tossing Championships. He won countless individual Games’ championships including 23 successes at Aboyne and about 15 at Braemar where the Queen regularly presented him with trophies. While competing on the circuit from Caithness to the Borders, he set records everywhere. Two deserve special mention.

In July 1969, at Lochearnhead Games he became the first to throw the 16lb Scots [wooden shafted] hammer over 150 feet with a throw of 151’ 2” while a month later at Crieff he set a 22lbs. Scots hammer record of 123’5,” which still stands.

The record was Rowe’s with whom Bill shared engrossing duels and whom he recognised as his greatest rival during the 60’s and early 70’s. Their contests lit up arenas with the added spice of Rowe having been an Olympic shot putter from south of the Border. His presence undoubtedly inspired Bill to greater heights.

Bill also competed abroad 49 times including trips to America, Canada, Australia and Dubai. In North America he won national titles several times and in Australia the World Championship in 1981. Popular everywhere, he was especially so in California where according to colleague Grant Anderson[no relation] he was ‘revered’. Other countries visited included France, Nigeria, Sweden, the Bahamas, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan where he had a memorable tussle with a Sumo wrestler.

In 1977 he received an M.B.E. for services to Highland Games and in 2007 was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, the only Games athlete ever so recognised.

William Smith Anderson was born at Greenferns Farm, Bucksburn, Aberdeen to John and Jeanie, the sixth of nine sons with two sisters. He attended Bucksburn Primary School and Bankhead Academy where he played in the football team. As a youngster he helped on his farm and later worked on farms nearby which developed his powerful physique. His father had dabbled in heavy events, encouraging Bill to practise with a Scots hammer at home. He became interested in Highland Games which at the time were widespread in Aberdeenshire and ingrained in the local culture. After persuasion by a brother he entered Alford Games in 1956 as a novice and surprised himself by winning £9 in four events. That was the launchpad of an outstanding career whose last competitive appearance came in Sydney, Australia in 1988.

In his area there was no tradition of amateur athletics whereas professional Games were strong and there were several ‘farmyard heavies’, whose footsteps he followed. Despite being self coached with only rudimentary training, Geoff Capes thought him capable if he had been amateur of winning a medal at the Olympics, such was his quality.

Soon after Alford he did National Service with the Cameron Highlanders in Aden where he distinguished himself winning the Command heavyweight boxing and athletics championships. After demob. he returned to farmwork and building his reputation at the Games, in 1959 winning his first Scottish title as well as his first championships at Aboyne and Braemar.

Having been courting Frances Walker for some time after meeting at a dance at Kingswells Village Hall, the couple married on 23rd January 1960 at Kingswells Church which he said “was the best thing I ever did.” They enjoyed 59 happy years together during which they had four children, Rosemary, Kenneth, Mark and Craig. They travelled together on foreign trips especially to America and Australia and were keen participants in ‘Old Time Dancing’ throughout the north east.

Bill moved into the building industry as a concrete layer for local companies before working part time in retirement in a national hardware store in Aberdeen. Later he was a highly respected judge at Braemar, Aboyne, Crieff and Aberdeen Games where his presence added to the sense of occasion. A number of his trophies are on display at the new Braemar Gathering Centre where he was invited to view them prior to its recent inauguration.

Understandably dubbed ‘The King of the Heavies,’ his feats ensure his richly deserved place of honour atop the pantheon of the greats while his personal qualities enhance that accolade. A tribute from American Walter Carruthers on Bill’s final Games there in 1986 reflects his impact,- “Your career in Scottish athletics will live in the minds and hearts of all who had the pleasure of competing on the same field. You are truly the Grand Gentleman of the Games.”

Bill is survived by his wife, children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.