When Bill Buckie received a call from an old colleague from his days in the Arab state of Qatar he thought it was just a “catch up” conversation.
Although he spent over 20 years of his life in the country, those times had moved to the back of his mind as happy memories ever since he retired and moved back to Scotland with wife Jean in 2007.
Seven years on, the 73-year-old Grangemouth man genuinely did not realise the difference his presence and his commitment to his job had made to the Qatari people.
Not until he was invited to return to the country for a special ceremony earlier this month and then returned to his home in California, Falkirk, with a ceremonial dagger and the grateful comments and praise of the Qataris still ringing in his ears.
“All the time I was working over there I was just thinking I was doing my job,” he admitted. “It’s not until the Qatari energy minister embraces you, thanks you and says ‘do you realise the impact you had on us’ that you start to think about it.”
So how does someone go from teaching science at Falkirk High School to gaining the respect and gratitude of an Arab emirate?
“I went out to Hong Kong in the late 1970s to run science classes in Hong Kong for the Scottish Education Department,” said Bill.
Back home again and bitten by the exotic travel bug he started looking for any opportunity to go overseas again.
That opportunity came in 1985 when he began working with Qatar Petroleum as a development supervisor, co-ordinating the professional training of the company’s young local recruits on site and off for the next 22 years.
“On a personal level I found Qatar a very pleasant place and professionally I found it fascinating. There was a massive amount of change while we were there. The main one being the successful programme of Qatarisation, which saw young people of the state being employed in the petroleum company, using the experience and training ex-patriots had given them.
“It was a partnership between nationals and expatriots, helping each other. We learned just as much as they did. They wanted to fill the posts with their own people and we were helping them do that.
“Although it was true expatriots were helping Qataris so the jobs at the company would be filled with local people as opposed to ex-pats, you have to admire the way they bring on their young people, it’s something British industry would do well to follow with their apprenticeship and graduate training.
“When a new recruit joins the company they are given real work to do, that’s how they learn. They are assigned to an experienced employee who gives them an example of professionalism to follow as well as training.
“These guys were called coaches and they would give these new recruits the responsibility of real work, ensuring it was carried out to a professional standard.”
The population of Qatar at that time was around a quarter of a million local people, but this swelled to 1.3 million when you included the ex-patriots like Bill who were living and working in the state.
Bill said: “Qatar used to be like a small village, now its like Stirlingshire. It’s probably the same size as Stirlingshire and has about the same population.”
Like many Scotsman, more used to cloudy rain-filled summers with the odd outbreak of sunshine, Bill found it difficult to adjust to the sheer heat of Qatar.
“In the summer it is extremely hot. We’re talking 50 degrees centigrade. You have to get in the office very early in the morning and, although we worked on, many people had a sleep at lunch time because it was so hot.”
English is the second language in Qatar, so that was not a barrier.
“We picked up some Arabic, but not enough to get by,” said Bill “It’s actually slightly shameful we didn’t, but they were encouraging us to speak English all the time to help them learn it.”
Bill retired in 2007 and he and wife of 50 years, Jean, returned to Scotland and their family, leaving Qatar for good.
Or so they thought.
“One Saturday afternoon a former senior colleague phoned up and said we would like you to come back for a presentation. We had intermittent contact with people in Qatar over the years, but this came out of the blue.”
Bill is proud the recent graduation picture at Qatar Petroleum features so many women, and says that is a sign of just how far Qatar has come over the years, with females working in responsible, important jobs alongside male colleagues.
However, the best example of the positive effect Bill and his colleagues had on Qatar was the man who presented him with his ceremonial dagger earlier this month, His Excellency Dr Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Sada.
A former student who Bill had once co-ordinated training for, he has risen through the ranks to assume the post of minister for energy and industry in Qatar.
“He didn’t just shake my hand, he came over and give me a big hug. It was so nice to see so many people there you had been close to all those years before.”
Bill said the Qatar he remembers was filled with friendly people of all races and nationalities, a real melting pot. When he and Jean returned after their seven year absence, a lot of things had changed, but that friendly and welcoming atmosphere remained.
Jean said: “We caught up with old friends and saw the place one more time. It had changed, with a lot of new developments and buildings but it was nice to see it again.
“We had fond memories of Qatar, but this is the icing on the cake.”
Or the dagger in the scabbard.