Born: September 6, 1930;

Died: March 21, 2021.

IN the 1950s James Hardie Brown and his brother Ian left their native Fife for Perthshire and bought Innergask Farm, in the parish of Findo Gask. Part of the land was covered by a concrete aerodrome and, towards the end of the decade, they decided to get rid of it by using a Traxcavator, a combined tractor and excavator.

The machine aroused interest in the neighbourhood and the brothers began renting it out. This inspired their plant hire business and, in 1964, they founded I & H Brown, which in time would diversify into construction, mining, house-building and land remediation.

Eventually, the business extended to the acquisition and operating of Highland estates. I & H Brown now own some 4,000 acres in Fife, Perthshire and East Lothian, producing barley, wheat, potatoes, oilseed rape, and grasses. For some years Hardie was chairman of the Perth Show.

He was a distinctive figure in many ways, as a relative of his, the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, said (by proxy, due to Covid restrictions) at his funeral on March 29. Brown extolled “the scale of his achievement – not one achievement but a record of continuous achievement in farming and in every sphere of business he entered… all singular successes one after another”.

With characteristic modesty he added: “I have always thought that if any family member was to be Chancellor of the Exchequer it should have been Hardie. I’m not sure he would have put up the tax on cigars, which he liked greatly, or wine”.

James Hardie Brown, who was 90 when he died at St Margaret’s Community Hospital, Auchterarder, was born in Dunfermline in September 1930, to Jennie and Davie Brown, a farmer. Hardie grew up at Carnock Mill Farm with his older brother Ian, who died in 2015, and sister Betty. He attended Dunfermline High School until leaving to help his brother on the farm.

While civil engineering remains a core activity of I & H Brown, the company’s expertise in mining, and the skills involved with land remediation and reclamation, led to a prescient interest in the environment and a vision of what could be done with renewables.

The company developed wind farms at Calliachar and Toddleburn, along with new ways of engineering previously uncontrolled landfill sites. As Hardie said: “We always looked for a second use”.

The brothers were fascinated by machinery. As Hardie put it: “Our business has been like a boyhood dream because we loved plant”. He served as chairman of the Scottish Plant Owners Association. He indulged his love of travel and wherever he went he managed to slip in a view of the latest earthmoving equipment.

Hardie delighted in acquiring lorries and painting them in ever-brighter colours. One day Ian told him firmly he was buying too many. Hardie recalled: “I said to him, ‘all right, you have my word that as from this moment I won’t buy any more’. He didn’t know that that morning I’d bought 10.”

Hardie’s biggest interest in life remained I & H Brown. Even after semi-retirement he would come into the office with his son in the mornings to open the mail: he was known for an uncanny ability to spot envelopes that contained cheques. “And I’m the only person who switches off lights,” he said.

He was a keen sportsman, car rallying, shooting and curling being his chief passions. He was an extremely competitive member of the 55 Car Club and was co-driver with his brother-in-law Bobby Crawford in the famed Monte Carlo rally, driving a Mini Cooper.

Sprints and other race activities took place on the Brown property at Gask. He travelled abroad to attend Formula 1 events in Europe and South America, often with his other brother-in-law, Tom Muir, who found him very outgoing: “He could speak to anyone. I would love to have known both Hardie and Ian as young men – they must have been tremendous fun and so full of beans”.

Hardie loved shooting all his life. In his early years, it was a day out with neighbouring farmers then, latterly, at the family farm near Auchterarder. “His shoots were always jovial, with a bunch of interesting people”, recalled Iain Bett, a colleague in the plant industry. “Hardie never looked for big bags. It was the conviviality that mattered.”

A member of Findo Gask and Broomhall Curling Clubs, Hardie had the honour of being “made”. This curious rite took place at Broomhall where, as a protege of his friend Lord Elgin, he came to no real harm. The two probably enjoyed an outdoor bonspiel or two in winters when the ice was hard enough.

Once, on a curling trip to Ottawa, Canada, Hardie took the wrong lift in his hotel and became lost below stairs; fortunately, the concierge detected him by the aroma of his signature Montecristo cigar.

Hardie married Betty Miller in 1955 and they had two children, Scott and Shane Elizabeth. Hardie and Betty divorced in 1988 and he married Carol Ann Muir, with whom he lived at Mid Fordun Farm, Auchterarder.

In his later years, Hardie suffered from dementia. He is survived by Carol, and his son Scott, who now directs the family firm, daughter Shane, sister Betty, step-children Ann-Maree and Russell, grandchildren Abigail, Duncan, Edward and Michael, and a great-granddaughter, Hallie.