THE public service given to their community by four citizens of Lauder was acknowledged this week when, in a moving ceremony coinciding with the Queen’s diamond jubilee, they were awarded the Freedom of the Royal Burgh, writes Andrew Keddie.
“I was so overwhelmed that I could hardly speak,” admitted one of the recipients, Bill Walker, after collecting his certificate from Graham Garvie, convener of Scottish Borders Council, at a packed public hall on Tuesday.
Along with Ian Stevenson, Ian Brotherston and Jim Archibald, Mr Walker, 82, became an Honorary Burgess of his adopted town (he was born in nearby Oxton).
The quartet are the only living individuals who can boast that title which grants them “privileges and immunities” dating back to 1502 when the town was granted its Royal Charter by Kings James IV.
The last occasion on which Honorary Burgess status was conferred was in 2007 when the recipients were the King’s Own Scottish Borderers to mark the regiment’s final Freedom March prior to its disbandment.
The only others similarly-honoured in the 20th century were Edinburgh Lord Provost William Lowrie Sleigh (1924), solicitor Allan Doughty (1948), Lauder Provost James Watson (1951) and the 12th Earl of Haddington (1957).
The “honorary” qualification differentiates its recipients from those who simply hold so-called Burgess tickets by dint of owning at least one acre of grazing land on Lauder Common, the citation making it clear that SBC had, in this case, used its powers “to advance wellbeing”.
“This is a singular honour which I only heard about a week before the event and I know I speak for the others in thanking Lauderdale Community Council for its nomination and SBC for its endorsement,” said Mr Walker, who was provost of the town council prior to local government reorganisation in 1975.
He later served on Borders Regional Council, but stood down to concentrate on running his Lauderdale Garage business. Mr Walker, who described his wife Isa as his “rock”, was until recently an active member of the committee which produces Lauder’s monthly newsletter.
The achievements of the chosen four were read out by community council chairman Alistair Smith.
He described how Mr Stevenson, who farms at Blackburn Farm, had been the longest-serving past chairman of Lauderdale Community Council, registering 16 years at the helm.
Ex-Cornet Ian Brotherston, honorary president and past secretary and chairman of Lauder Common Riding, was acknowledged for his commitment, not only to the annual festival, but to a range of artistic, dramatic and musical endeavours in the town.
And retired driving instructor Jim Archibald was recognised as a “quiet and dignified ambassador” for the town, always willing to lend a hand when help was needed and now playing a major role with the town’s Probus Club.
Mr Smith said the four’s contribution to community life in Lauder during the 60 years of the Queen’s reign had been “immense”.
Through their roles in a wide range of local organisations, they had all shown “a readiness to assist whenever a job needed to be done”.
This week’s freedom ceremony was witnessed by the new freemen’s proud spouses – Isa Walker, Elizabeth Stevenson, Christine Brotherston and Dot Archibald.
“It was a day none of us will ever forget and an honour for which we are all both grateful and humbled,” said Mr Walker.