Teacher and choral music specialist

Born: May 6, 1941;

Died: December 5, 2019.

IAN McCrorie, who has died aged 78, is not in Wikipedia’s list of famous people from Greenock, but it cannot be disputed that he gave more to the town than many who are on the list ever did.

Ian spent most of his life in and around Greenock Academy. His father taught Primary Seven there and Ian himself was a pupil all the way from Primary One to sixth year, when he was head boy. He went to Glasgow University to get his honours degree in chemistry and onto Jordanhill College for his teacher training, before returning to the academy a mere five years later to join the staff.

He had not planned such a speedy return to his alma mater, but, with a raft of retirements resulting in staff vacancies, it made sense. He was on the staff for all of his teaching career, rising to the rank of depute rector, prior to his own retirement in 2001.

He was a great believer in extra-curricular activities, including the school tuckshop (which he managed for many years), school charities, school trips around Scotland and abroad, school operas, and participation in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme (the Academy was one of the leading Scottish schools in terms of the number of pupils gaining the Gold Award.)

His founding of the school’s Scientific and Philosophical Society was another significant milestone in the activities he fostered at the school.

Even in retirement, the link remained unbroken through his long membership of the Greenock Academicals Club. In 2006, for the school’s 150th anniversary, he updated the Centenary Book.

Apart from the school, the great love of his life was music. At the age of four he was sent to a Miss Hodge for music lessons, and he could read music as easily as he could read text. By fifth year, he had graduated to the organ, and, as the 20-year-old organist at St George’s Church in Greenock, at the request of then minister Bill Johnston, he put together a choir to perform a Greenock version of the King’s College, Cambridge ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ Christmas service.

The choir wanted to sing together more regularly, so the Toad Choir was born - the name being chosen, so legend has it, because their toad mascot allegedly bore a resemblance to the girth of their conductor. The Toad eventually became a 70-strong ensemble, appearing on BBC TV’s Songs of Praise and other programmes and, in 1972, a decade after their birth, they won the National Choral Championships at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

In 1975, the Toad Choir was subsumed into the Scottish Philharmonic Singers. It would not be amiss to say that Ian was one of, if not the leading, choral music specialists in Scotland. He was involved in the formation of the Scottish Festival Singers and sang with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and, for many years, the annual Greenock Christmas Concert was a highlight of the choral year in Scotland. He conducted the annual CLIC Sargent Concert for children’s cancer charities in the Royal Concert Hall.

Throughout his life, Ian was active in the Church of Scotland. For over 30 years he was organist in the Mid Kirk – the Town Kirk – in Greenock. He was a Kirk Elder and a regular commissioner at the General Assembly, as well as occasional organist. He was on the committee which produced the fourth edition of the Church Hymnary, and was convener of the Church’s Music Committee.

He had joined the 59th Greenock Scouts as a boy, continuing to serve through gaining his Queen’s Scout award, then becoming a Scouter and eventually Scout Master of the same troop. He also played a prominent part in the formation and running of the Scottish Schoolboys’ Club in Greenock and was heavily involved in raising money towards the building and upkeep of a school in South Africa.

Ian had a lifelong passion for Clyde steamers. As a student, he worked on boats such as his first ship, The Holy Loch Maid, before graduating in his final year as a student to the rank of Chief Purser on The Countess of Breadalbane.

He joined the Clyde River Steamers Club and wrote 21 books on Clyde steamers and the river and firth area, the best-known of which is probably ‘Royal Road to the Isles,’ which covered the first 150 years of CalMac. When he retired from teaching, he became historian for CalMac, while he was also president of the West Highland Steamer Club and, courtesy of a retirement present, he had a lifetime Commodore’s ticket for the Waverley.

He was musical director of Greenock Burns Club and a member of the Malt Whisky Society, while his charitable work included leading roles in the Innerkip Society, Greenock’s oldest charity, the Badenoch Trust, and a leading role locally in Rotary. His musical work was recognised by the award of an MBE in 2007.

He and his wife Olive were married in 1965. Olive survives Ian, along with sons Roderick and Douglas, grandson Finlay and Ian’s younger brother Peter, a Professor at London University and husband of Greenock-born international opera star, Linda Esther Gray.