Obituary: Tom Howie, rugby player and administrator
Rugby player and businessman – responsible for getting lions stamped on fresh eggs
Born: 10 September, 1938;
Died: 17 August, 2019
THE death of Tom Howie, just a month before he would have turned 81, leaves a massive gap in both West of Scotland rugby and in the life of the East Ayrshire communities of Dunlop and Stewarton – where Tom was the personification of the long-established family firm: Howie of Dunlop.
His father was running that iconic Ayrshire firm when Tom was born in 1938. He naturally, as a child, went to Dunlop Primary School, before furthering his education at Glasgow Academy, where he played hooker in the XV.
Leaving school, he did two years at the Scottish Agricultural College, after which, he completed his National Service with the 16/5 Queen's Royal Lancers, between 1958 and 1960. During this period, there was a legendary incident, in Germany, where Tom found himself singing with a certain US Army soldier – Sergeant Elvis Presley, a case of one of the Queen's Own duetting with the King.
It was now time to join his father and prepare to take over his birthright, the expanding Howie Group. Initially he worked in Howie's grain department, but he really made his mark on the food side of the business. He made Lainshaw Farm Eggs Scotland's leading egg producing company, taking his expertise in this to national level, where he was Chairman of the British Egg Industry Council.
While involved in the industry at national level, he was one of the instigators of having the little lion stamped on fresh eggs. He also, for four years, represented British egg growers in the continent-wide industry body Poultry Europe, a position which necessitated regular trips to Brussels – and saw him heavily involved in refuting Edwina Currie's scurrilous slander on British eggs.
He also served on the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, and was the convener of the NFU Scotland between 1986 and 1990. His service to the cause of Scottish agriculture saw him made a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society.
Among his other business successes was his stewardship of Kyle Frozen Foods, a company which was the forerunner of companies such as Iceland, while he also oversaw the rise of Howie's Fencing department to become market leaders in Scotland, erecting massive fences such as that surrounding HMS Clyde at Faslane.
However, it wasn't all work and no play for Tom. He continued to be involved in rugby after school, initially as a hooker with Kilmarnock, then, when he hung-0up his boots, he segued easily into administration. He was a key mover in Kilmarnock's rise from being a junior club to the top flight of the club game, and the development of their Bellsland Ground.
He was chairman of the Ayrshire selectors, his entry into the Glasgow District committee, which he would go on to chair. Tom was one of the instigators of Kilmarnock-Ayrshire, which saw other local clubs fed their best players to the main Kilmarnock-Ayrshire side and opened the door to representative honours for the likes of B internationalist Niven Rose and full caps Bryan Gossman and Bill Cuthbertson.
Tom was a great supporter of making the full Glasgow side and the Glasgow clubs as good as any in Scotland, and he was for some years team manager of the Glasgow XV, where he worked alongside international level coaches such as Richie Dixon.
He had the almost-heretic idea of amalgamating Ayr and Kilmarnock to form an Ayrshire side to compete against the great Edinburgh, Glasgow and Borders club sides. Of course, that one was never going to run, but, he did live long enough to see Ayrshire Bulls – a concept akin to what he had advocated some 30 years before – officially announced, the day before his death. Although the money which accompanies professionalism and its corrosive effect on grass roots rugby remained a disappointment to him.
Tom later returned to New Anniesland, for an administrative role with Glasgow Academicals, and, while at New Anniesland, he joined Brian Simmers in persuading the diehards at Accies and GHK to pool their resources in a new club – Glasgow Hawks. He became president of Hawks and was still involved with this club, as a staunch supporter, at the time of his death.
One story from his Hawks days which shows-up well Tom Howie the administrator concerns the club's appearance in the Scottish Cup Final, at Murrayfield. Matt Williams, then then coach of the Scotland side had decreed, the “Scotland” or main dressing room at Murrayfield would only be used by the Scotland team, and it was to be locked on cup final day.
Hearing this, Tom personally called “Firework” Phil Anderton,the then SRU Chief Executive and told him, if Hawks, the “home” team in the final, didn't get access to the “home” or “Scotland” dressing room – there wouldn't be a cup final. The SRU backed down.
He was also a frequently-sought-out source of wisdom and advice across Scotland's rugby community – from young club officials, to gnarled reporters, everyone had a good word for Tom Howie and appreciated his wry humour and good advice.
He was a governor of Glasgow Academy and during his tenure, he helped bring about the amalgamation with Westbourne School for Girls.
Rugby was not his only sporting passion, however. He was a life member at Royal Troon Golf Club, and a member of Greenacres Curling Club, where he curled with his club, Ayrshire Rural Sporting Enterprise. He even curled internationally, enjoying frequent trips to Wengen Curling Club in Switzerland.
Nobless Oblige commits the Howies to close involvement in the life of Dunlop, Lugton and Stewarton, and in this, Tom was no exception. He was one of the leading lights in Stewarton Angling Club, the Stewarton and Dunlop Agricultural Society – leading the annual show, he chaired Dunlop Community Council and his sense of community saw him involved in projects such as the establishment of Millennium Park in Dunlop, the successful fight to keep Dunlop Primary open and his gift of land to establish 36 allotments in Stewarton.
He also organised the local VE-Day commemorative bonfire in 1995, and officiated in the carriage of the Olympic Flame on its journey through Dunlop in 2012.
He was, as befits an Ayrshireman, a lover of Burns, a leading light in Lugton Burns Club and a friend of that noted Burnsian, the Rev James Currie, during his tenure as the minister of Dunlop Kirk, where Tom's funeral service was held on August 26, prior to his interment in Dunlop Cemetery.
Throughout his long and successful life, his “wingman” was Aileen, his wife of 51 years, a lady even more loved in rugby circles than Tom. She survives him along with son William, daughters Anne, Fiona and Alison and their five grand-children.
They have lost their father figure, Ayrshire has lost one of the county's giants.