This was amply demonstrated by the huge congregation which packed Trinity Church last Wednesday for John’s memorial service.
Minister, teacher, local politician, musician, long-standing and high-ranking Freemason, master of the spoken word both in and out of the pulpit, appreciator and generous dispenser of fine wine . . . and great company – he was all these things and more.
I learned a lot from our conversations on so many topics but it was our shared love of local history that dominated.
He had a fantastic knowledge of the Larbert and Stenhousemuir area and shared it in series of articles for the Falkirk Herald in the 1970s, a number of which were gathered together and published in 1984 as ‘‘Gless Doors and Jeely Pieces’.
He was as good at this as he was at everything else with a gift for painting pictures with words that carry us back across the years.
So, by way of tribute to a great man and a good friend, I am including an extract from one of my favourites.
Here John describes life as a pupil in Larbert Village School in the post-war years.
After praising his teachers for laying the foundation required for a successful future he goes into confession mode as he recalls the extra curricular activities enjoyed by his classmates.
“Round the corner was the tuck shop owned by Frank McGill who sold us comics and sweets. An important part of our purchases was in choosing football cards so that we could swop doubles and make up our favourite teams.
‘‘It was here that we first dabbled in cinnamon smoking, swaggering with bravado while furtively puffing away in the sheds and toilets at the top of the playground. Freedom arrived at four o’clock when we made our way home, passing Stewartfield and Thomson’s Garage to pause longingly into the window of that well-known restaurateur Johnny Santi, drooling at the aroma of fish and chips which assailed our nostrils.
‘‘I can remember one day, while hovering around the chip shop, some of us having a last quick drag on the cinnamon, when our gaze was diverted by the approach of a horse and cart bearing the trade name of Robert Barr. On coming level with the shop, the carter stopped his horse and proceeded to enter the shop.’’
‘‘A deep discussion arose as to the ability of a horse to inhale cinnamon.
‘‘The discussion soon ended, the proof revealed as one small boy walked over to the horse and jabbed the end of the reeking weed into the animal’s mouth.
The beast reared up, pushed down on the shafts which forced the cart backwards where, accompanied to a cacophony of noise, it crashed through the plate glass window.
‘‘Within seconds and before the dust settled, the street was deserted, not one of us waiting to taste the wrath that was about to descend. We rushed past Willie Graham’s paper shop and the chemist run by Miss Donaldson, over the railway bridge into the comparative safety of Muirhall Road.
‘‘Now strolling casually, assuming the angelic demeanour of choirboys, we paddled through water gushing from the garage hose as Alex and Tommy Thomson washed their taxi, dallied while looking at the bicycles in Charlie Anderson’s window, a quick blether with old Paw Broon and Isaac Laing before disappearing into our own close which, in our minds, was a haven where no danger could ensue.”
Copies of ‘‘Gless Doors and Jeely Pieces’’ are available in local libriaries.