Francis Morton

Born: June 3, 1947;

Died: March 8, 2023

Francis Alexander Morton, or Frankie or Frank to those who were close to him, was the first of eight children born to Thomas Morton and Annie McMahon in the east end of Glasgow. He grew up in the era of the Glasgow tenements with outside toilets and the old-style room and kitchen, but without complaint or criticism of the conditions.

He had vivid and fond memories of the Duke Street Meat Market and being allowed as a young boy to take his “pieces” and go to sit and watch the ships on the River Clyde. A student at St Mary’s Primary School and then St Mungo’s Academy, he showed distinction in both art and modern languages.

He applied to Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow and was accepted by both. He decided to study French and Italian at Glasgow University and graduated with an MA in modern languages. This was an accolade for someone reared in the poverty of the east end to enter a Russell Group University and to succeed. He was the first in his immediate family, and in all generations prior, to do so.

He continued in his education to gain a qualification in teacher training. He paved the way for his brothers and sisters, and his own family in time to reap the benefits of what he had sown: to have belief in your abilities and achieve your goals, regardless of your background.

This was also something he instilled in the pupils he taught at St Andrew’s Secondary School in Carntyne for 25 years, where he progressed to principal teacher before working with the former Strathclyde Regional Council to devise the primary Scottish modern languages programme. Former pupil, now New York Times bestselling author Gary Bishop, says Frank was a monumental figure at a pivotal time in his young life and a “lighthouse in those dark days in the east end”. He inspired pupils to live a better life than they thought they might have.

Frances Curran, ex-MSP, posted on social media to say “Frank was a great teacher and had a profound effect on me and so many other pupils. He used lines that inspired me, made me feel better, rallying about poverty and that it wasn’t our fault. He was a special person and his influence has been carried in lives lived, scattered across the globe.”

His political outlook was a huge part of Frank’s character. He had unshakeable beliefs in equality, justice and fairness, dedicating himself tirelessly to campaigning for people’s rights, particularly in the east end of Glasgow through his work with the Scottish Labour Party, and with the then Lord Provost of Glasgow Susan Baird.

He marched on many teachers’ strikes and supported the trades union movement. He was deeply knowledgeable in political theory and engaged in current affairs. He remained a member of the Scottish Labour Party until he died. He was known for being “bolshie”, humorous, speaking up for what was right and most importantly, speaking up for the marginalised who had no voice.

Frank’s love and appreciation of art never left him. After taking early retirement from teaching, he returned to undertake courses at Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow College of Building and Printing and the Glasgow Print Studio, gaining qualifications in stained glass, printmaking, furniture design and art. He retrained as a stained glass artist and his work was influenced heavily by Harry Clarke, (1889 to 1931) who was undoubtedly one of Ireland's greatest stained glass artists.

Some of Frank’s subsequent work can be seen in his restoration of pieces in the Rosslyn Chapel in rural Midlothian, the Olympia Theatre in Dublin and the Oran Mór on Glasgow’s Great Western Road. His artwork was also influenced by Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Arts and Crafts movement, and he leaves behind a portfolio of his paintings, prints and sketchbooks, as well as unique pieces of furniture and design such as chairs, stencils and cabinets. He shared his love of art with his son, and in turn, his grandson, who is now a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art.

In his younger years, Frank saved up to buy a guitar, and taught himself in the style of Bob Dylan and his contemporaries. Protest songs represented and channelled his political outlook, but he also had a deep love of Irish traditional music which developed throughout his life. This musical side he shared with his daughter, and they enjoyed travelling across Ireland and Scotland to hear many musicians and bands. He inspired his daughter to become an accomplished musician in her own right.

Frank also undertook genealogical research of his family over a 40-year period, and his Irish roots were visible through his love of the music, language and culture of Ireland. He was a founding member of the Inishowen Ceilí Band, winning medals at various fleadhanna, and was a stalwart in the session in Sharkey’s Bar in the Gorbals for years – the epitome of Irish emigrants.

The unfailing care of Frank by the staff of Glasgow Royal Infirmary in his final days will always be remembered by his family. His passing is felt deeply by his wife, children and all the extended Morton family. His influence and legacy, however, lives on.