FORTY-ONE of the 44 surviving Royal Burgh Standard Bearers were among hundreds of mourners who paid their respects last week to Tom Kellett, who died suddenly at his Kirk Wynd home on March 1. He was 75.
The huge turnout, both at Selkirk Parish Church and the Auld Kirkyard where he was later interred, was a measure of the affection in which the man who led the 1959 Common Riding was held, not only in his native town, but across his beloved Borders.
“He was one of a kind: a straight-talking, thoroughly decent man who was the proudest of Souters,” observed Ian Galloway, who was Standard Bearer in 1964 and had written a special tribute to his friend in the Selkirk RFC programme for Saturday’s postponed Border League match with Gala at Philiphaugh. The minute’s silence due to be observed then will take place at the club’s next home game.
Last Tuesday, the ex-Standard Bearers, in time-honoured fashion, walked in procession ahead of the cortege from the Pant Well to the cemetery gates from where the six most recent incumbents carried the coffin to the graveside. Among the mourners were representatives of equestrian festivals from across the region, including a large contingent from Langholm.
However, the sombre mood of the day was lightened by a warm and heartfelt eulogy in the kirk from Tom’s daughter, Linsey McLaughlin, the lack of black ties at the request of the family and the numerous happy anecdotes later exchanged about a true son of Selkirk.
Thomas Francis Nixon Kellett was born at Viewfield Nursing Home on August 5, 1935, the only child of Frank and Mary Kellett, and was educated at Philiphaugh and Selkirk High before attending the textile college in Galashiels.
Despite his family’s relatively humble financial circumstances, Tom forged, from an early age, an ambition to be Royal Burgh Standard Bearer. He spent time at local stables, mucking out and gaining equestrian knowledge, and later being allowed to lead the horses back to the fields.
His dream was realised in 1959 and, two years later, he married Vera Kemp. Linsey was born the following year and their son Gavin arrived in 1964.
Tom’s working life began at Ettrick and Yarrow Spinners where he was an apprentice pattern weaver. He later drove the country van for the Co-op, covering the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys. He then worked in the wool store at Laidlaw & Fairgrieve, moving on to Heather Mills from which he was made redundant.
He then took on a variety of short-term jobs, but ill-health – he underwent two heart valve operations and suffered a stroke – led to his early retirement at 59.
His love of rugby was enduring. He played for the High School and Selkirk Youth Club ,where he was politely described as a “vigorous” player, and, as a back row forward, went on to captain Selkirk’s 2nd XV.
When no longer able to play the game, Tom joined the committee at Philiphaugh and, with the late Brian Roden, gave sterling service to the club. “His interest in the game continued by supporting from the terraces – and playing the game all over again in the bar afterwards,” recalled Mr Galloway.
Tom later became honorary president of Selkirk Vets, was a fervent supporter of the club’s monthly luncheons and was immensely proud of the new crop of players.
Widowed in 2002, Tom maintained his lifelong interest in the Common Riding. A great traditionalist and an avid supporter of the festival he had the privilege to lead, he was a past convener of the race committee and was actively involved in the Ex-Standard Bearers’ Association.
Tom Kellett is survived by his daughter, his son and four grandchildren,Alice, James, Andrew and Iona.
– A K