Our friend and colleague

Alastair Watson 5th March, 2013.

Alastair Watson 5th March, 2013.

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My earliest memory of Alastair Watson was meeting him on the stairs of the Tweeddale Press Group’s head office in Berwick during the mid-1970s.

My earliest memory of Alastair Watson was meeting him on the stairs of the Tweeddale Press Group’s head office in Berwick during the mid-1970s.

These cinderellas are going to the ball.

These cinderellas are going to the ball.

I was a trainee journalist with Dave Smith’s news agency in the town and he had just started work in the photographers’ darkroom.

Dressed in a white coat and – if my memory serves me right – sporting a rather dodgy moustache, he was carrying a bucket of developer. Yes, it was a time long before digital photography.

However, shortly after, Alastair was given his opportunity to shine behind the camera when company boss Colonel Jim Smail gave him a job with the group’s Kelso Chronicle and Jedburgh Gazette.

I followed him to the title as a reporter in 1978 via The Berwick Advertiser and was soon impressed by his photographic skills and ability to cajole an unwilling subject into his lens’ sights. Alastair was also great fun socially – a definite plus when liquid lunches were the norm among those in the newspaper industry. Friday afternoons in particular were a favourite and much-anticipated part of the working week.

However, the weekend would inevitably see him patrolling the touchline of a football or rugby pitch to capture the action for the following week’s sports pages.

My career took me to Dorset in the summer of 1979, but I returned to the Borders as a sub-editor on The Southern Reporter seven years later. Alastair was still plying his trade – he hadn’t changed much. Just as verbally combative and always up for a practical joke on his colleagues.

Family responsibility increasingly became an important part of his life – a role the proud dad and granddad was only too pleased to play.

A staunch trade unionist, Alastair was elected father of the Tweeddale Press chapel – shop steward would be the description for those uninitiated in the ways of journalistic and print labour organisation. He was quick to leap (sometimes literally!) to the defence of his colleagues and never cautious in challenging management decision or action. Bosses soon learned that here was a tenacious character not to be messed with. It was a position he held until his death.

Born in Shenfield, Kent, he moved to Inverness when he was four after his railway civil engineer father secured a job covering the north of Scotland.

After attending Crown Primary and Inverness High schools, he decided on a career as a chef, working at the local Station Hotel. But this only lasted six months and he set off for Birmingham Polytechnic to study photography for three years. On his return to the Highland capital, he worked delivering for a butcher and on a building site, waiting for a photography job to turn up.

About this time, his parents moved to Coldstream because of holiday and family connections – and it was his mother who saw the darkroom job advertised in the columns of another Tweeddale Press paper, The Berwickshire News.

By this time Alastair had met Meg, his wife-to-be, at a dance in Inverness and the couple moved to the Borders. They married in 1977.

Throughout the nearly-40 years it was my privilege to know him – both as friend and workmate – his pride at being raised in the Highlands was never far from the surface. This occasionally manifested itself indirectly with gentle jibes about my birthplace (and, somewhat ironically, his home since the seventies) of Coldstream and its close proximity to England – “a borderline case” was how he described me on more than one occasion.

But Alastair certainly played his part in Coldstream life. He was involved in local football circles, in coaching and committee capacities, and backed Celtic and Inverness teams when it came to the wider picture.

And when his son, Gareth, became Coldstreamer just a few years ago, no father could have been happier to see their offspring lead the town’s Civic Week celebrations.

In recent years no Christmas Day was complete for me without a visit to Alastair and his family – just a few doors down from where I’d enjoyed a festive dinner with relatives. However, last year I missed out on my annual festive call to the Watson abode. I had hoped to revive the habit this year – but so far as Alastair was concerned, little did I realise that would not be possible.

Alastair, who turned 60 last month, is survived by his wife, Meg, son Gareth, daughter Michelle, and grandchildren Tyler and Skye. His funeral is in Coldstream today (Thursday). – DCF

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Unveiling of Bill McLaren statue in Wilton Lodge Park, Hawick. Betty McLaren with the statue of Bill.

Unveiling of Bill McLaren statue in Wilton Lodge Park, Hawick. Betty McLaren with the statue of Bill.

I had the pleasure of being Alastair’s boss for nine years. And it was an interesting nine years!

A consummate professional always, he was also a valued colleague, friend, team player, and a joker. He could be stubborn, and on occasions, infuriating, but he was also caring and would go out of his way to help a colleague in need.

Whenever I sent him out on a job, I never had any doubts that he would come back with what was required. More often than not, it was a photograph worthy of the front page, although Alastair always pushed to do better.

He was a fantastic ambassador for the paper and was known and respected throughout the Borders. He had a way with people that put them at their ease, although the same could not be said with animals. He was not so happy if I sent him on a job with horses!

The team at the Southern is small and close knit and Alastair was an important member of our family. He will be sorely missed, though not forgotten.– SW

Jethart Hand Ba'. Laddies ball.

Jethart Hand Ba'. Laddies ball.

Mr. Bumble confronts Oliver Twist for asking for 'more' in the Selkirk Operatic Society's 1996 production.

Mr. Bumble confronts Oliver Twist for asking for 'more' in the Selkirk Operatic Society's 1996 production.