Eulogy delivered by Alex Salmond at the funeral of Robert Fyfe Findlay Salmond
ROBERT FYFE FINDLAY SALMOND
When I was consulting Bobbie Bennie - whose family firm have been burying Salmonds for some generations- about a date for today’s service, I suggested last Tuesday. “Wouldn’t be such a great idea,” said Bobbie. “It’s the Marches Day". For the uninitiated here among us, the Marches are the annual riding of the Royal Burgh boundaries, where we march just to make sure there has been no encroachment from Bo’Ness or other villages - like Edinburgh - and then climax the procession with three times around the Cross.
“Oh I don’t know,” I replied - “How about three times around the Cross Well with the coffin.” Anyway, Dad would not have minded. Indeed he would have loved the notion. Because our father was born and bred a “Black Bitch” - born within the sound of St Michael's bells - although he as you can see from your order of service that he bears the name of a St Ninian's Craigmailen Minister for his middle names of Robert Fyfe Findlay Salmond, just as I am Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond.
Just over there is the Salmond family pew and just to my right on the Great War memorial is the name of my Dad’s Uncle Harry - my great Uncle. Our Dad was clerk to the Congregational Board in this Kirk and insisted on taking the minutes in civil service fashion completely verbatim. And so it went on for years until our Mum, who had to type them up, finally put her foot down and insisted on a condensed version. The point is our Dad was like a stick of rock; Lithgae through and through.
With the exception of wartime service, his resultant period in Bangour Hospital and the last five years at Erskine Home, Dad spent his entire life in this town. This included more than 60 years at 101 Preston Road and more than 50 of them with our Mum, and love of his life, the late Mary Salmond.
At their Golden Wedding in 2000, Dad made a compelling, spellbinding 20 minute speech without a single note on how they had met and set up life together. One of our relatives remarked that he could see where I had learned the art of public speaking. In reality, before that day I had never heard my father speak continuously for more than a few sentences, except his recitations of poetry on a Saturday morning.
“He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts be small, that dares not put it to the touch, to win - or lose it all” Or as my Dad put it TO WIN or lose it all!
These are the famous lines of James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose. And he along with Hearts Centre Forward, Willie Bauld, and World Senior Golf Champion, John Panton, made up a triumvirate in our household of great Scots. But even then, aboon them a' was Tommy Walker of Linlithgow Rose, Heart of Midlothian and Scotland.
Dad hadn't been to a Hearts match for a wee while, but thanks to my brother Bob was still a regular attendee at Rose games, watching me as First Minister present them with the Scottish Junior Cup not once but twice in my term of office - I claim the credit for both victories.
When I was a lad, I was struck between the contrast between this carefree Saturday morning figure reciting poetry and the sometimes stern father who spent a great deal of time hunched over his civil service papers sprayed out across the living room carpet. It was years later that Willie Wilson, an ex-miner from Kinneil colliery, and my Dad's favourite golfing partner, put me right.
He explained that Dad was greatly respected in the mining community as the adjudicator who would go to the ultimate degree in finding a reason for granting appeals for industrial white finger and the other occupational diseases. It's called public service and what a contrast with today, where private companies are bribed to deny disabled people their entitlements.
My Dad had strong opinions. Once he adopted a position, he stuck to it. As a petty officer in the navy he was nicknamed Joe because of his trenchant defence of the Soviet Union. Three weeks ago in Erskine Home he repeated the same simple point to me: “We would have been feenished without Russia.”
He didn't talk about the War much, even though Margaret and I teased him mercilessly as youngsters about the exact circumstances in which his aircraft carrier was sunk and his personal role in the sinking - fast asleep in his hammock was our suggestion! In fact, HMS Indomitable, true to its name, made it to Gibraltar crippled, but under its own steam, and Dad and the rest of the aircrews were re-deployed on to HMS Hunter, much to their annoyance because they were looking forward to visiting America for a refit. The Hunter was a merchant ship welded together to become an escort carrier. This meant that the runway wasn’t long enough for a Seafire or other fast planes and so they caught them on deck by use of nets and hooks.
In his later years, he spoke about the war rather more. Old men do not forget. Rather they tend to speak about the things of which they have the clearest memory. Not long before he went to Erskine, Dad told me that by far the worst thing he saw in the war was not the panic, the noise and the fear of being torpedoed. Instead, it was the young pilots lost in the water when the nets broke, as they inevitably sometimes did, the planes were lost overboard and the airmen left to die in the sea as the convoys couldn’t stop.
It was and is a reminder that people who have experienced real wars and real conflict have a rather different perspective than the toy soldiers who too often occupy the benches of the House of Commons.
Our faither's politics were simple - he believed in Scotland. The apocryphal tale of an incompetent Labour canvasser in the 1962 by-election inadvertently breeding a whole generation of SNP supporters, candidates and First Ministers is more or less true. However, once Dad had decided then that was it, although for the next quarter of a century he was unable to put his posters up at home because of my Mum’s stubborn allegiance to the Conservative interest and her threat to put up a Tory one beside his. Think of the shame of it, a Tory poster in Preston Road!
Mum finally relented and indeed converted when I became SNP leader. When I was a very young politician and less street wise than I am now I gave a daft interview to a paper and made what I thought was a humorous contrast between my Mum who thought that Churchill was the greatest man who ever lived and my Dad who wanted to hang him because of what he had done to the miners in the 1920s. The inevitable headline ensued: “Salmond’s father wanted to hang Churchill”. I phoned to apologise. The answer came “Did I teach you naethin'. Hingin' was much too good for that man”.
The point is that once he had committed - he stayed committed. Loyalty was important to him. He would be fair tickled that his postal vote was still counted last week, from beyond the grave, although furious that neither of his children who were candidates won their own election, despite his display of a poster for each of us in his window at Erskine.
All of the family are immensely grateful to all of the staff for their care of our Dad at Erskine Home over the last five years. It is an exceptional place staffed by truly exceptional people, some of whom are with us today. Many of us are guilty of speaking awkwardly about Alzheimer's and as dementia progresses then many families can have a torrid time as they effectively lose their loved ones. However we were blessed. None of us really lost our Dad or our granda over the last few years.
Instead, the illness gives a certain clarity to what is at the centre of the order of things. Ian and June are Dad’s church visitors from Bearsden and have written a lovely note to Gail about their times with Bobby - as they called my Dad - and the stories he told them of Black Bitches, the Marches, the Blackness Milk, Uncle Bert Oswald and crowning Willie Bauld the King of Scotland, Alfie Conn the Prince of Wales and crowning the Celtic and Rangers centre forwards of the time with hammer and a frying pan respectively.
He told them how proud he was of all of his family - four children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. "They have done all right haven’t they?” He would say. This tells of what really matters at the end of days - love of family, loyalty to town, to football club and to country. Rather like the great Tommy Walker himself - Linlithgow Rose, Heart of Midlothian and Scotland. Not quite the Holy Trinity, but it will do. So what remains is perhaps only his favourite toast which we shall do again at the Rose Club with glasses fully charged: "Here's tae us, Wha's like us. Damn few, and they're a' deid."
15th June 2017