When Rena Hunter told her father she thought younger brother Les could make a good career out of working in a bank, she could never have imagined the places it would take him and the people he would meet – or the situations he would find himself in.
Fifty years later, he can reflect on a journey that took him from the Bog Road area of Falkirk to the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and finally to Virginia in the United States.
His working life which started in The Royal Bank of Scotland in Falkirk’s High Street, allowed him and his family to travel the world before putting down roots across the Atlantic, but also gave him the means to become ‘king’ of his very own Scottish castle.
Following his retirement from the financial institution, Les (66), spent his time in property developing and consultancy, before deciding the time was right to put his life story down on paper.
Earlier this year, ‘The Bog, The Bahamas and Beyond’ was published giving an insight into the extra-ordinary working life of someone who describes himself as “an ordinary boy from the Bog”.
He said: “Like many people, I’d always had the idea to write something. I carried out some research on my family and my wife Ann’s relatives and the book takes in information about them, as well as my career in international banking.
“I was about a year and a half writing it all down. I didn’t go onto Google and type in ‘how to write a book’, rather I just based it on our lives. I didn’t even have to spice it up a bit because some of the things in the Bahamas in particular were pretty interesting.”
Carrying around thousands of dollars in cash to be prepared to do a deal at a moments notice wasn’t uncommon and at one point, he was involved in securing and selling a ship which had become one of the bank’s assets.
However, even he admits that one of his must unusual financing deals was a turtle farm where red-tape eventually halted the owners shipping the creatures around the world.
But his first taste of financial wheeler-dealing had been when he and his friends used to play cards under the railway bridge at the end of the street where he grew up.
The second of six children – four girls and two boys – of Peter and Mary Hunter, Les attended Victoria Primary School and Graeme High. His plans to get an apprenticeship changed with his sister’s suggestion of the bank.
However, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of the RBS accountant, the branch’s second-in-command, that career might have been over before it even began.
“I sat the entrance test in the bank’s kitchen area and the accountant came in to prepare his lunch,” explained Les. “He looked over my shoulder and, seeing I was having problems with the business abbreviations, gave me the correct answers!”
And so his banking career began. He spent time in branches in Bo’ness and Bathgate before being transferred to London’s Bond Street.
Describing his year in the capital as “simply terrific”, Les also joined the Territorial Army as a private in the London Scottish. However, after his father had a heart attack he returned home, eventually moving to the RBS chief office in Glasgow. There he met Ann Loudon, then a secretary in the overseas department, who was to become his lifetime companion.
But the wanderlust was still with Les and he made several applications for overseas posts without success. However, it was his mother who eventually suggested that he get back in touch with the bank in Nassau which had previously rejected him due to his lack of experience.
He sent off a letter and was stunned to be told the job was his. Within weeks he and Ann were engaged, planning a wedding and preparing to uproot themselves to the Bahamas.
When that institution was taken over by the Bank of Virginia, further opportunities presented themselves with Les and Ann moving to the Cayman Islands – a relocation that was reported in The Falkirk Herald at the time.
April 1975 saw the couple uprooted again, this time to Richmond, Virginia and although there were plans to eventually open a branch in London, this didn’t come to fruition. Instead the couple settled in Richmond, raising their two daughters, Shona (34) and Cassie (32).
Les added: “We were always on a two year plan in the early days but things changed and I stayed initially in international banking before moving into corporate banking, eventually heading up national banking, becoming an executive vice president.”
His book is scattered with names of people well-known in the Falkirk area, including Ian Scott, Gus Braidwood and his best friends, Ian Laurie, Charlie Smith and Jim McLay, who were all signed with Falkirk FC at one stage.
Himself a keen footballer, Les, whose former home is little more than a stone’s throw away from the club’s current stadium, kept a keen interest in the club’s fortunes wherever he was based, even crossing the Atlantic especially for the cup final in 2009.
In fact, from an early age his grandson Graysen (5) could recite the names of the cup winning team of 1957 – “even the 12th man, McIntosh” laughs Les. No doubt other grandson Callum (2) will soon be learning about the team which meant so much to his grandfather’s generation.
Les and Ann now divide their time between the States and their apartment at Bridge Castle, near Bathgate, spending time with his mum Mary, who will be 92 on November 11 and still lives in the house where he grew up.
In his book, he writes: “I woke up one day with a mission to write about my journey through life, the people with whom I have travelled, and the family that has given it meaning and purpose.”
Sitting at his mother’s fireside, he added: “It’s a story about a nobody, but hopefully people will find it interesting.”
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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