John Stewart – obituary

Meeting with John and Frank in the Gyle Centre

It was with great sadness that I learned of the demise of John who was my first contact with an ex-worker from the yaird.

John and Frank Guthrie met with me in 2010 at the Gyle, some readers will remember this picture of us, the photographic record that John kindly let me have a shot of his special Old Leithers hat! John continued thereafter to put others who had worked at the yaird in touch with me to share their memories, Bruce and Terry already having featured in other posts. They are all very encouraging and keen to help the book along, and I might well have given up the whole project what with the day job, a wedding and other everyday commitments, but they have been stalwart supports and encouragers. I shall miss John’s chatty emails and helpful comments terribly.

I’ve been in touch with Frank Ferri who has kindly given me permission to share some of the obituary he wrote for the Scotsman, and who has written about John in a way I could never do. I have not reproduced it in full, but there is a link below should you wish to read further detail.

“Obituary: John Stewart, webmaster and historian

Published on Wednesday 23 January 2013 00:00

Born: 10 July, 1934, in Edinburgh. Died: 9 January, 2013, in Livingston, aged 78.

About 11 years ago John, a dedicated Leither, decided to record his memories of the area by creating a website, to share his – and others’ – memories of growing up there in the mid-20th century.

Little did he know then how his little nostalgic indulgence would grow and become so popular with Leithers of all ages, eager to share their historical knowledge or learn more about Leith life.

John was born in Leith, in July 1934. He was Dux of the year at Dr Bell’s Primary school in 1946 and attended Leith Academy for his secondary education.

A God-fearing and family-loving man, with good old-fashioned moral standards, he was a member of the Salvation Army.

In 1951 he took up an apprenticeship at Henry Robb’s ship builders in Leith docks as plumber’s apprentice, until in 1955, while he was booking a flight to Ireland at a Leith travel agent, a Canadian promoting migration to Canada asked John if he was interested in emigrating. Much to the chagrin of his parents, he decided to uproot and give the new world a chance. However, after only six months, homesickness beckoned him back to sunny Leith.

On his return home, he met up with an old girlfriend and they were married in 1957, eventually settling in Livingston in 1966. When John’s dear wife passed away in 1998 it created a huge vacuum in his life, and he never missed an opportunity to mention her in some way.

In 2009 South Leith Church, to celebrate its 400-year anniversary, decided to ask locals to nominate people who had made an outstanding contribution to Leith over the past 100 years.

Among the Pillars of Leith, the title they were to be given, were not only well-kent Leith names such as Sir Tom Farmer, former Hibs players Pat Stanton and Lawrie Reilly and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, but also our John Stewart.

He was awarded a medal for his outstanding dedication to promoting Leith’s history and his love of the community through his website. He may not have been tall in stature, but he was a giant in his own right.

2010 brought a wee surprise for John in the form of a certificate presentation at Leith Library in recognition of his website work. Four regular contributors to the Oldleither website, in conjunction with John’s son Alan, organised this presentation. These were Graham Whyte, now in Harrogate, Bob Moffat in Bonnyrigg, Jack McKenzie in New Zealand and Frank Ferri. Who called themselves the website’s four musketeers.

11 May, 2012, as the social convener of Leith Dockers’ Club, he arranged, in conjunction with the other musketeers, an Old Leithers’ afternoon reunion. With the help of Leith FM radio station, now Castle FM, which uses the club’s property for broadcasting, they set up a Skype link so domiciled Leithers in Canada, America and New Zealand could join in.

Frank collaborated with John about a year ago in the self-publication of a book, “Leith Recalled”, which is full of wonderful old pictures and anecdotes of Leith. It also lists the names of all who attended the Old Leither reunion in 2011. Leith Library has a copy.

Sadly, due to John Stewart’s demise, the future of the Oldleither website is uncertain. It would be a tragedy if all his hard work were to vanish from the web. Where we go from here is uncertain at the moment. The website is still live at the moment and a visit is highly recommended.

John will be remembered for his dedication to his community, humour, compassion, generosity and the ability to talk about Leith at the drop of a hat or hum an old song to you over the phone to stimulate old memories.”

The entire article can be found at: John’s Obituary, The Scotsman Online

My sincere condolences to his family and close friends on the loss of a man who oozed family values and who is absolutely epitomised by his title as a Pillar of Leith.

 Ruth Macadam 2013

About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
This entry was posted in Henry Robb, Leith, Scottish History, Tradesmen and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to John Stewart – obituary

  1. John D. Stevenson says:

    Sad news indeed
    I was an engineering apprentice in THE yard 1948/53 and new John then .
    Lost touch after leaving to go to sea but ‘chatted’ again through the ‘ Old Leither’ site
    A good ‘HIBBEE ‘ into the bargain !
    RIP John

  2. jim gibson says:

    John and I were born one month apart and attended Leith Academy at the same time . WE both served our time after that at Robb.s ,he as a plumber and I as a Shipwright We used to go to the Assembly Rooms every Monday night . We both immigrated to Canada at the same time where I still reside, in Ottawa. I finally got back in touch with John through his Web Site ,the Old Leither.
    He will be dearly missed .
    RIP Stewie.

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