Born: March 5, 1927;

Died: October 5, 2022.

ALEXANDER (Sandy) Stephen, who died recently at his home in Balfron, Stirlingshire, aged 95, was the seventh generation and last survivor of the shipbuilding dynasty that ran Alexander Stephen and Sons Ltd, at Linthouse on the Clyde.

As managing director, he experienced the trauma of the decline of the shipbuilding on the Clyde and was determined to preserve its history for posterity. Always seeing the positives in life, he faced personal tragedy with outstanding fortitude and resilience.

In his 2015 book Stephen of Linthouse, he charted the decline of the Stephen’s yard with candour and humour. He appeared on television in such programmes as Scotland’s Story, All Our Working Days and The Men Who Built The Liners, and he gave insightful lectures on the shipbuilding industry.

Alexander Moncrieff Mitchell Stephen was born in Glasgow on March 5, 1927, the second son of Sir Alexander Murray Stephen and his wife, Kathrene Paton Michell. In 1930 the family moved to Cleuchearn Lodge, Lanarkshire, where Sandy spent his early years before being educated at Cargilfield and, later, Rugby School where he enjoyed playing the trumpet. After a brief spell in the navy, he went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1948, and gained a Mechanical Sciences Tripos degree.

As a second son, Sandy was given a choice of career but decided to join the family firm, ignoring warnings from his father that life as a shipbuilder would bring him nothing but trouble. After gaining experience in other yards and at sea with the Anchor Line, he joined Linthouse as a junior manager in 1953. At that time the company had been building ships for over 200 years.

In 1750 his forebears had begun building boats at Burghead and had started yards at Aberdeen, Arbroath, and Dundee. Sandy’s great-grandfather and namesake, Alexander Stephen, transferred the business from Dundee to build iron ships on the Clyde at Kelvinhaugh in 1850 before finally, in 1870, moving to Linthouse on the Clyde where the new yard was laid out with meticulous planning and foresight.

By the late 1880s Stephen of Linthouse was one of the most productive yards on the Clyde and by 1953 it was a medium-sized yard employing around 4,000 with an excellent reputation for meeting their clients’ requirements in building ships for service across the globe.

As sales director Sandy tried to find sales in a shrinking market. Air travel was expanding and the company was facing fierce competition from abroad. The directors considered their options but their attempts at modernisation caused crippling labour disputes amongst the many trade union bodies involved and, in the aftermath of war, the cost of materials was rising.

The yard could not continue and in 1968 was incorporated into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS), which went into liquidation three years later. The engineering and ship repair business continued until 1978.

These were hard times for everyone involved in shipbuilding and Sandy, deeply concerned about the effect of the yard’s closure on the employees, supported the creation of the Preshall Trust, providing aid and activities for people in need in the Govan and Linthouse areas.

He retained a connection to his shipbuilding heritage. He was a member of the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, becoming president during 1983-85. He was a trustee of the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine, and was instrumental in the transfer of the famous engine shop from Linthouse to Irvine and recreating it for future generations.

Following in the family tradition, he was on the Mastercourt of the Hammermen in the Glasgow Trades House, being deacon in 1977-78. After 1968 he took on other business interests, including becoming a director of Murray International Investment Trust and Scottish Widows. He founded Polymer Scotland, a small civil engineering business, in 1972, which he successfully ran until his retirement in 1992.

He was a gifted sportsman but it was his skill as a yachtsman for which he will be most remembered. He was renowned for his success in Dragon Class races and in 1968 his yacht, Sou’wester, which he had designed, came fifth in the Olympic Trials. As recognition for his contribution to yachting he was elected a member of the Mudhook yacht club in 1965, eventually becoming admiral during 1984-89. He was also a rear commodore of the Royal Northern Yacht Club.

Sandy was a patron of Scottish Opera and assisted several charities, serving as honorary treasurer of the West and Central Scotland Region of Riding for the Disabled. He was a governor of the Glasgow School of Art, raised funds for the RNLI, was an elder of Balfron kirk and served on the Sons of the Rock in Stirling.

In 1976 Sandy moved his family from Renfrewshire to Balfron, after purchasing Ballindalloch, a large baronial house. Using his skills as a naval architect, he demolished 25 rooms and created a more manageable house with beautiful gardens which he used frequently to raise funds for Scotland’s Gardens Scheme.

Throughout his life Sandy’s ability to cope with adversity was extraordinary. At separate times he and his wife Sue Thomson, whom he married in 1954, faced the unexpected and cruel loss of three daughters. He survived major cancer surgery in 1998, outliving his prognosis by more than two decades.

Sandy leaves a unique perspective on the Clyde shipbuilding and a lasting testimony on how to successfully weather the relentless storms of life and seize each day. He is survived by Sue, their son, three granddaughters and a great grandson.