Obituary: Jim McFadzean

A very special man and an outstanding servant of Waverley: Jim McFadzean, purser from 1988 to 2010

As Waverley’s purser for 23 seasons, Jim McFadzean became a legend in his own lifetime. News of his death last weekend at the age of 75 has come as a blow to his numerous friends in the ship enthusiast community, but he will also be mourned by the countless excursionists whose lives he touched.

For tens of thousands of people, Jim McFadzean was the human face of the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer. He radiated bonhomie at the gangway, acted quickly when things went wrong and generally made it his task to see that everyone went home satisfied.

Jim was 40 when he first joined Waverley in 1988. His background was in agriculture and he had next-to-no sea experience. Click on image to enlarge

Jim joined Waverley at 9am on 29 April 1988 in Oban. A native of Ayrshire, he had no experience of pursering — his background was in farm management and agricultural sales. He had less than two hours to clear the Purser’s Office of paint pots and set it up for work. After a day’s training, he was ‘on his own’. He later recalled with a chuckle that he must have been ‘crazy. I had to learn fast’.

By the time Jim retired in October 2010, he was the longest-serving member of the crew — and the most influential. For each successive Waverley master, especially when new, it was reassuring to be able to count on Jim’s authority and antennae, which kept the bridge alert to public or crew concerns.

Jim developed the job into far more than the traditional Clyde purser, never settling for the role of ship’s banker. It was he who ensured that the catering departments had their cash floats for the day, that safety equipment was checked before passengers were allowed on board, that the skipper had a second pair of eyes from the paddle-box while canting at Glasgow and Ayr.

It was also Jim who saw that trouble-makers on the Saturday return sailing from Rothesay to Glasgow were dealt with quickly and firmly.

He was sharp in his attention to detail, strict in his on-board discipline. He always ‘kept his cool’, but did not suffer fools gladly. He enjoyed being with people — and it was his matchless combination of people skills, organisational acumen and crisis management that often saved the day.

In retirement Jim was often welcomed back to Waverley. He is pictured on 25 September 2017 with Paul Semple (centre) and Allan Smith (right)

On countless occasions, when the unexpected happened, Jim single-handedly turned the Waverley experience from a potential disaster into a triumph. Over the years he built up a list of bus companies ‘a mile long’, so that when a sailing was altered or cancelled at short notice, he could get everyone home without fuss.

Jim survived all the changes that came Waverley’s way — the comings and goings of personnel, and the inevitable setbacks that the paddler has suffered throughout her life, especially in operational preservation. He also survived the transition from daily accounting on paper to the era of laptops and mobile phones. He said his favourite stretch of water was the Kyles of Bute, and his second favourite was Round Anglesey — the latter aboard Balmoral, on which he undertook a first stint as purser as early as 1989, and again during the 2000 and 20003 Waverley rebuilds.

In the off-season he loved to travel — but even in Hong Kong and Cape Town (as on the streets of Glasgow) he would be recognised by strangers as ‘the Waverley purser’, hailed with handshakes and smiles.

In retirement Jim was no stranger to the paddler, enjoying renewed contact with old friends, but in recent years he had suffered from indifferent health. He died on Saturday 15 April in Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary after a short illness.

We offer our deepest sympathy to his sister Janet and other members of the McFadzean family, and to his longtime partner Ian McConnell.

For most day trippers, Jim was defined by his smile

A watchful eye on the paddle-box at Dunoon

Heaving the gangway at Millport’s Old Pier

Jim was a shirt sleeves purser, with a commanding presence at the gangway

Oozing bonhomie: Jim made everyone feel welcome

With longtime Waverley board member Deryk Docherty

Jim rarely wore his officer’s jacket, but made an exception for Waverley’s 60th anniversary celebration on 16 June 2007

Reunion of former Waverley shipmates on 8 July 2017, when Balmoral cruised to Coll: Paul Semple (Purser), Tony Lipowski (AB), Robin Billings (Shopkeeper), Ken Henderson (Technical Director), Andy Westmore (Second Engineer), Scott Johnston (Donkeyman), Nick Jasins (Chief Steward), Captain David Howie (Chief Officer), Ian McCorkindale (Second Engineer), Valerijs ‘Buba’ Vahabovs (Barman), Tony Byrne (Chief Engineer), Jim McFadzean (Purser), Tony Gamblin (Purser)

Four Waverley pursers spanning the ship’s history between the late 1970s and the early 2020s: (left to right) Pat Murrell, Jim McFadzean, Andrew Comrie and Cameron Marshall, pictured together on an Ailsa Craig cruise on 26 July 2021

Jim McFadzean — In Memoriam

Tribute by Andrew Clark, published on 20 April 2023 © CRSC