Obituary: Ian McCrorie

Ian McCrorie at Brodick on 10 October 2015 during CRSC’s ‘Five Ferries Excursion’ to Arran, Kintyre and the Kyles

Ian McCrorie, who died on Thursday 5 December 2019 aged 78, was the most charismatic and inspiring individual in CRSC’s long history — but his interests and gifts went far beyond shipping. He will be remembered above all for his boundless energy, his generosity of spirit and his unstoppable enthusiasm across a wide field of activity.

As a lifelong churchgoer, Ian McCrorie would have been familiar with the parable of the talents and its underlying message — that they are God-given, there to be fulfilled. Ian was blessed with numerous talents, and he fulfilled them prodigiously, to the great benefit of everyone who came into contact with him and far beyond.

The cruise brochure Ian produced for CRSC’s charter of Queen Mary II on 5 May 1973, commemorating the 40th anniversary of her debut

Musician, educationist, historian, public speaker, organiser, family man — Ian poured his gifts into an extraordinary range of human endeavour, and however disparate these activities may have seemed, his lively personality acted as the common thread, allowing each to benefit equally. He radiated bonhomie. He was an inveterate entertainer and storyteller. He was above all a great motivator: he wanted to share his enthusiasms, and had the knack of inspiring others to get involved. Over a 50-year period, CRSC was a principal beneficiary.

In any assessment of Ian’s achievements in the field of shipping, the imaginatively conceived and executed steamer charters he organised as CRSC cruise convener from 1966 to 1976 will go down as the most important. Ephemeral as one-off cruises may appear on the surface, the impact of Ian’s CRSC charters lasted long and went deep into the psyche of huge numbers of enthusiasts. They brought in dozens of new members and embraced a wide public. Managers at the Caledonian Steam Packet Company’s Gourock headquarters were taken aback at how commercially successful these excursions were.

Their scale and ambition, unprecedented at the time but a marker for others to follow, was breathtaking. The first was the North British centenary cruise to Tarbert and Ardrishaig in April 1966 on Waverley, retracing the route of her North Bank predecessors Dandie Dinmont and Meg Merrilies. Next came the trip up the River Cart to Paisley Harbour on Maid of Argyll in September 1966, visits by paddle steamer Caledonia in her last two seasons to Inveraray (1968) and Campbeltown (1969), and a whole string of cruises on Duchess of Hamilton — to Girvan and Round Ailsa Craig (1967), Troon and Arrochar (1968), Kilmun and Ardrossan’s Montgomerie Pier (1969) and Innellan, Ardrishaig and both Millport piers (1970). He also organised Queen Mary II’s visits to Corrie (1967), Kilcreggan and Tarbert (1974) and Stranraer (1975), as well as King George V’s charters to Inveraray, Lochranza and Tarbert in the early 1970s, and Glen Sannox round Arran (1968), through the Kyles of Bute (1969) and to Tarbert and Inveraray (1975).

Maid of Argyll in the River Cart on her way to Paisley for the groundbreaking CRSC charter on 17 September 1966

Ian not only devised the itinerary, liaised with Gourock and corralled a team of helpers to set up advertising and ticketing, he also wrote the authoritative commemorative booklets that were sold on board, all the while exuding the cheerfulness that was his trademark. Right up to the end of his life, you never saw Ian with anything other than a smile on his face. He was an incredibly upbeat character.

He served the Club in many other ways — twice as President (in the 1965-66 and 1992-93 sessions), as Review editor (1990-2003, for which his privileged access to CalMac HQ was invaluable) and as speaker, often beginning his talks in song. His larger than life presence at Club meetings — not to mention all the other societies with which he was involved — will be sorely missed. CRSC owes him an inestimable debt of gratitude.

Born on 6 May 1941, the night of the Greenock blitz, Ian made his home there throughout his life. He had the Clyde and West Highlands in his bones. His great grandfather on his mother’s side had been stationmaster and pier master at Wemyss Bay in the early years of the 20th century. His uncle, Joe Beattie, was pier master at Dunoon and a former Clyde purser, and Ian also had family connections in Millport. Ian took his first runabout season ticket on the steamers when he was eight. During student summers, he was assistant purser on Maid of Ashton (1959), Cowal (1960) and other ABC ferries in the next two years — all conveniently Gourock-based, meaning he could go home at night.

‘Steamers of the Clyde and Western Isles’, the 1964 publication that announced the arrival of Messrs MacArthur, McCrorie and MacHaffie, leading to a rejuvenation of Club fortunes

The ancestral home on his father’s side was the cottage next to Duart Castle on Mull, and when Ian forged his special partnership with fellow enthusiasts Iain MacArthur and Fraser MacHaffie in the early 1960s, they divided up areas of interest in a way that gave Ian primary responsibility for MacBraynes and the Highlands (Iain taking the CSP and Fraser Stranraer-Larne, though there was plenty of crossover). Their seminal 1964 publication, Steamers of the Clyde and Western Isles, filled a significant gap in the market: it was inexpensive, easy to read and packed with photos and useful information. It became the mainspring for most of their CRSC work, leading to the establishment of Clyde Steamers (CRSC’s annual magazine, first published in 1965), the production of cruise brochures and Ian’s evocative contributions to Iain MacArthur’s definitive CSP history, published by the Club in 1970.

Independently, from the late 1970s to the 2000s he authored a string of notable books and booklets, including Caledonian MacBrayne: Ships of the Fleet (1977), Clyde Piers (1982, with Joy Monteith), Clyde Pleasure Steamers: An Illustrated History (1986), Royal Road to the Isles (2001), Tighnabruaich Pier (2002), Pioneer (2003), A Sea Road to Rothesay (2005) and The Journey to Finlaggan (2011).

A pupil (and head boy) of Greenock Academy, where he later became Assistant Rector, Ian graduated with an honours degree in Chemistry from the University of Glasgow in 1963. After qualifying as a teacher, he returned to his alma mater in Greenock, where he spent the rest of his professional career, inspiring pupils in a vast array of extracurricular activities.

While Ian had a talent for introducing youngsters to the wonders of the shipping world, his gift for music was to resonate even further. Having started piano lessons at the age of four, he learnt to play the organ in his teens. This led to him playing for services at St George’s Church in Greenock, and then leading a choir in the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas. One thing led to another: Ian formed a choir of his own — the Toad Choir — which quickly became renowned for its high artistic standard, so much so that in 1965 it performed in a BBC Songs of Praise broadcast, conducted by Ian. Numerous other prestigious engagements followed.

Father and son: Ian and Roderick McCrorie during CRSC’s ‘Arran/Kintyre Hopper’ on 17 May 2017

In 1975 Ian was invited to form a choir to give concerts with the Edinburgh-based Scottish Chamber Orchestra: this was named the Scottish Philharmonic Choir, an evolution of the Toad. It became a staple of the Edinburgh Festival, travelled widely, sang under distinguished international conductors (at concerts for which Ian had done all the rehearsal preparation) — but they always returned to Greenock for the annual Christmas concert. From 1995 until it disbanded in 2005, the choir’s nucleus continued to perform independently under Ian as the Scottish Festival Singers.

For his services to music and the Inverclyde community Ian was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2007.

In ‘retirement’ (not really a word in Ian’s lexicon), he took pleasure in fulfilling organ-playing and speaking engagements throughout the central belt and West Highlands.

Always generous with the time he gave others (occasionally at the cost of overextending himself), he played an influential role in the production of the Church of Scotland’s Fourth Hymnary. He was also a fan of the Mod and the Scottish Malt Whisky Society. 

Ian, who died after a short leukaemia-related illness, could not have achieved all he did without the untiring support and patience of Olive, whom he married in 1965 and with whom he shared many interests, initially as fellow pianists, then as choir members, and latterly as concertgoers and tourers of Scotland’s west coast. They had two sons — Roderick, now a professor at St Andrew’s University, and Doug, a wine import specialist and father of Finlay. The Club extends its heartfelt sympathy to them.

Tribute by Andrew Clark.

A Service of Thanksgiving for Ian McCrorie took place on 16 December 2019 in Wellpark Mid Kirk, Cathcart Square, Greenock, attended by a large congregation of family, friends and admirers from many walks of life.

For further details of Ian McCrorie’s life, read his listing on the Inverclyde’s Heritage website.

Ian McCrorie and Fraser MacHaffie on Graduation Day at the University of Glasgow, July 1963

Ian McCrorie (standing fourth from right) and Olive McCrorie (crouching right) with a CRSC group on board Queen Mary II during the Club charter from Bridge Wharf to Lochranza and Corrie on 23 September 1967. Others pictured include Jim McCaul, Hamish Bowie, RNW Smith, Iain MacArthur (fourth from left), Leslie Callan, Peter Milne, Eric Schofield, Dick Rowe, Robin Boyd (with camera), and Mairi and Douglas Brown (crouching on left)

Ian McCrorie (left) and Iain MacArthur (right) on Gourock Pier with King George V’s Mate, John MacCallum, on 1 May 1971, when CRSC chartered the MacBrayne turbine for a cruise to Inveraray

This photo accompanied a Greenock Telegraph report of the CRSC charter of King George V to Lochranza on 16 May 1970. It shows Ian McCrorie fourth from left next to the young Eric Schofield, with Iain MacArthur fourth from right, then Billy Tomlinson, Douglas Brown and Graham Langmuir

Alastair Chisholm, Robin Boyd and Ian McCrorie on 10 January 2009, after Ian and Alastair gave a joint presentation to the Club. This was our first meeting to be held at Jurys Inn

Ian and Olive McCrorie (right of centre, with Olive standing in front of Ian) in a CRSC group during a cruise to Tarbert on Waverley on 17 July 2011. Others in the photo include Deryk Docherty, Ashley Gill, Iain Somerville, Bob Lambie, Duncan Wilson, Elsie Hinshalwood, Richard Orr, Simon Morgan, Iain Quinn, Ian Wilson, Eric Schofield, Colin McNab and Al Black

MacArthur, McCrorie and MacHaffie: the ‘Messrs Mac’ outside Jurys Inn, Glasgow, in October 2013, on the occasion of Fraser’s CRSC talk on ‘Aspects of Blockade Running’. This is the only known photo of the three of them together

Four holders of the post of CRSC Cruise Convener over the past 50 years gather outside the Isle of Arran Brewery during the New Year trip to Brodick, Lochranza and Blackwaterfoot on 17 January 2015: (left to right) Neil Guthrie, John Newth, Eric Schofield and Ian McCrorie

Ian’s last talk to the Club was in January 2015, titled ‘Clyde Steamers of World War I’

Fraser MacHaffie, Douglas McGowan and Ian McCrorie on Waverley’s season-opener to Lochranza on 29 May 2016. Ian favoured Queen Mary over Waverley in the 1970s drive for preservation, but later became a strong supporter of the paddler

When Stuart Craig gave a vote of thanks at the end of one of Ian McCrorie’s CRSC talks, he used this photoshopped picture of Lord of the Isles at Oban to highlight Ian’s influence with CalMac. Stuart recalls that ‘Ian had a good laugh at it – he had a great sense of humour.’

The day Ian launched his series of ambitious CRSC charters was 16 April 1966, when Waverley undertook a sold-out cruise to Tarbert and Ardrishaig to mark the centenary of NB sailings from the North Bank of the Clyde

Another hugely successful McCrorie/CRSC venture brought about Duchess of Hamilton’s first postwar call at Girvan, on 29 April 1967

One of the best remembered charters that Ian organised was the excursion to Ardrishaig and Inveraray on Caledonia on 4 May 1968, at the start of her penultimate season in Clyde service

Published on 10 December 2019