George Savage

My dad George Savage, who died aged 89, was a footballer, runner, charity founder, ice-cream man, newsagent, postmaster and father to seven children. His life was characterised by great energy and an ineffable jolliness.

Born into a loving family with three sisters and a brother, in Carntyne, Glasgow, his early life showed sporting prowess: a newspaper report shows him, at 18 years old, winning the Scottish Schools half-mile (880 yrds) in 2min 3.1sec. Earlier, approaching 17 years old, he was invited to train with Matt Busby’s Manchester United, with the club corresponding with George’s dad about how his schooling would be continued. After a month at Old Trafford, George returned home to Glasgow because of homesickness; a decision he told me he never regretted, especially as “they never went on to achieve anything...”

Having enjoyed his secondary education at St Mungo’s Academy he naturally played for the FPs (former pupils) and after only three games showed promise enough to be a surprise inclusion in the Amateur Scotland football team against Eire (Ireland), on the 12th May 1953 – almost every other player was from the Queens Park squad.

At this time, he had begun his national service in Anstruther, Fife and as an airman he continued to play for Scotland. By 1955, he made news headlines by being obliged to leave his new job in order to play for Scotland Amateurs in a 5–0 win against Wales. This gesture delighted many in the press for its Corinthian spirit. When asked about this later in life, I remember his self-mocking answer being, “my humility prevents me from discussing this at length...” with hilarious accompanying hand gestures.

More football achievements ensued, including playing 1st Division football for Queens Park and Third Lanark. During a Scotland Amateurs tour of Europe, he was quoted in the newspapers as sending a good-humoured postcard to the injured Willie Hastie (the Queens Parks captain) whose place he’d taken; “All the best Willie, so glad you could not come.”

By this time, he had caught the eye of my mum, Nessie Mallon, and there was a promise of sorts made before George headed off to Canada to play professionally for the Montreal All Stars. My favourite story is when the team lost half its players at the American/Canada border, which had been suddenly shut, after travelling to New York following cup-winning celebrations. Dad did get back to Montreal, but some didn’t, including their goalie who was put on a boat back to England!

Back in Scotland, George married Nessie and seven children were to follow. He worked in newspaper advertising (including for the Glasgow Herald). During this time, an ice-cream van appeared in our driveway – this was apparently dad’s new second job; if we children helped get it tidy, we were told, we could take whatever chocolate we wanted.

After a few days helping, I had sickened myself so much that I’d gone right off chocolate: was this 1970s parenting or brilliant psychology? I don’t know. The ice-cream van allowed him to buy the Coia’s newsagents in Stewart St, Milngavie and, with son Colin, he ran this little empire, going head to head with the nearby RS McColl’s chain. They managed to stay afloat by selling anything which could encourage footfall, including fishing gear and groceries.

What really kept the place going was Dad’s charm and ability to remember the name of just about every soul in Milngavie. Once, whilst I was working alongside him in the shop, two Laurel and Hardie shaped characters entered and ominously offered to protect us from local trouble “for a small weekly fee”. There was a short silence before Dad and I burst out laughing, ensuring the duo’s chastened exit from the premises. The freedom of owning his own place allowed him and Colin to have a lot of fun with customers; an opening gambit on appearing from the back shop could be anything. “Right, who’s last?” was a favourite. In a rush, people using the taxi-rank next door would occasionally come into the shop and ask “Do you sell milk?” “Yes! Is it cow’s or goat’s milk you want?”, he’d ask. “Cow’s milk!” they’d answer. “That’s good, as we don’t sell goat’s milk,” he’d say.

He would work there for decades , seven-days-a-week, and punishing hours. It’s probable that his health eventually paid the price for this determination to succeed.

During the 1970s, with Joe McKenna and Bill McGuire, he founded the Society of the Innocents Charity to offer housing, support and other choices to those wanting to avoid abortions and to campaign against abortion itself. George, Bill and Joe spent much energy and time building up this group. This charity became quite large having a presence across Scotland, touching the lives of hundreds of young women wanting to avoid terminations (with material help such as finance, temporary housing and baby equipment), and of thousands of people learning about the Roman Catholic view on this matter.

Later in life, his wife Nessie heroically helped him manage his way through dementia, as he tried to never lose his incredible, hilarious persona. At the end of his life, he struggled to know what was happening at all, but still managed to get a laugh, telling the Gartnavel and QE nurses’ that “It’s tantamount to obscaloscity!” “What!?”, one nurse reasonably asked. W e could only shrug and laugh as we’d done so often previously.

He is survived by Nessie, his wife, by his children George, Michael, Martin Colin, Honor and Peter. (His son Roy died in 2014), and by seven grandchildren, Hannah, Patrick, Lewis, Catherine, Chantelle, Mirren and Sofia.