Duncan Ferguson, businessman

Born: August 14 1939;

Died: October 23, 2020

HE was the man who bought an oil rig, Ocean Odyssey, and then had to deal with it breaking loose from its moorings, heading for the Tay Bridge. But Duncan Ferguson, who has died aged 81, handled the call from the Dundee harbourmaster the way he dealt with most things in life – calmly, practically and with an acceptance that some things ‘just happen.’

Thankfully, disaster was averted and the giant structure was brought to a halt before a good chunk of the A92 was taken out.

Born in Cambuslang, in 1939, to Duncan and May Ferguson, he was a younger brother to Elspeth. As a child he was always playing with Dinky cars after school, and taking old bikes home from the dump, refurbishing them and selling them on. When he was 12 he tried to park his dad’s Austin 16 in the garage but failed to stop and went right through the back of it.

The presence of a piano meant the Ferguson home was the one people gravitated to for soirees and singsongs. Whilst not as accomplished on the ivories as his sister was, Duncan had a good ear for music and enjoyed playing hymns and choruses.

At 15 he started with a consultant engineering firm in Glasgow but left midway through his five-year apprenticeship to work with Andrew McCracken Building Contractors at Larkhall. As well as a love of cars and music he had a new love: McCracken’s daughter, Lorraine, whom he’d met at church. After a coffee date he told friends he’d met “the woman I’m going to marry”. They were married in May, 1964. Four children followed in the next 10 years – Julie, Lisa, Jamie and Sally.

The McCrackens loved their cars and regularly competed in the Monte Carlo Rally. Duncan fitted in and was a member of the Lanarkshire Car Club and, later, the Veterans of Scottish Motorsport. Despite numerous bumps (including one where he rolled a car several times but managed to complete the race after it landed on its wheels) he was a competitive driver.

He loved working for his father-in-law, who was someone similar to his own father in the way he conducted his business. These two men were great role models for Duncan when, after overseeing the building of the Daer pipeline in Lanarkshire, he and brother-in-law Sandy decided to start their own business, setting up a scrap business, Fermac, in Mossend in 1962.

Honesty and integrity were traits that marked Duncan’s business life and there are many stories involving people taking advantage of his better nature. One worker approached him, saying he was getting married and didn’t have a suit – could he borrow one of his? More specifically, his brand-new purple Jaeger one? The suit was duly handed over without question. The following week one of his workers asked: “Did you lend Rab that purple suit?…Well, there’s no’ much of it left!” ‘Rab’ had gone to his stag do, had too much to drink and ended up in a massive fight, rolling around the sawdust floor.

When Fermac won a Royal Navy contract to dismantle metal buoys and wire rope in Aultbea, near Ullapool, Duncan sent up a team of men and supplied their wages and dig money so they were ready to start that Monday. But instead he got a call from the local base commander asking when he would be “replacing his men”. They had blown the money buying everyone drinks and, when their generosity was not reciprocated, smashed up the bar and spent the weekend in Porterfield Prison, Inverness.

None of this ever fazed Duncan. What mattered was people. On the night when his daughter Lisa was born and the local policeman rang to tell him to get to his yard because the office was burning down, Duncan said he’d check it in the morning. Four castors from the office chair and a paper knife were all that was left. “But I had a beautiful wee daughter,” he said.

Duncan was President of the Scottish Metals Association (1978-79) and his expertise in dismantling and processing scrap was sought in such far-flung places as Puerto Rico, Texas and east Africa. In the mid-70s Fermac went in to a partnership with Charles W Ireland Ltd and in the 1980s, Dutch company Jewo Metals became the major shareholder.

It was to them Duncan sent an 11th-hour fax, asking for hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure the sale of the fire-damaged oil rig Ocean Odyssey, which they then spent two years dismantling in Dundee. Duncan was always proud that the platform they sold on remains to this day; it now functions as a self-propelled semi-submersible mobile launch platform for spacecraft.

Duncan’s Christian faith was an integral part in his life. He was an active member of Westcoats Evangelical and Hamilton Baptist Churches, and will be remembered for teaching Sandford Sunday School. He had a knack for making the lessons and songs interactive and fun. His work through Prison Fellowship with Lorraine, sister-in-law Pat and many other colleagues at Dungavel Prison, was instrumental in changing the lives of many prisoners for the better.

He served his community, his church and his family despite suffering from ME for most of his adult life. He retired as a result of the illness in 2000. Diagnosed with lung cancer last year, he was stoic in his last months, never complaining about his situation.

He had three loves: his family, his business and the Lord. He died surrounded by family at his home, and is survived by Lorraine, his children and his grandchildren.

Sally Hall