James Nicoll Cuthbert

Obituary. James Nicholl Cuthbert
Obituary. James Nicholl Cuthbert
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WHEN Nicoll Cuthbert died at his Darnick home this month, he was hardly more than a stone’s throw away from the place of his birth in nearby Bowden more than 80 years earlier.

Yet those intervening eight decades had witnessed a life packed with excitement and passion and lived to the full. Whether he was cheering on the drivers of his motor racing team as they captured another chequered victory flag or anxiously scanning the spring skies each year for the long-awaited arrival of one of his favourite birds, the swift.

Born on October 4, 1931, Nicoll was always ear-marked to follow in his father’s footsteps in the family’s successful quarry business, Kings & Co.

This he would do, but not before an education at Galashiels and Edinburgh Academies, followed by two years’ National Service.

There was also the matter of four years spent as an apprentice in the motor trade, a very happy period and one which kindled Nicoll’s life-long passion for fast cars, motor racing and all things mechanical.

He was a superb driver and the religion of speed drew him to own and race a variety of classic cars in the years between 1966 and 1970.

Nicoll’s race team started with a Lotus Elan driven by Bill Dryden, which was then joined by a Ford GT40 driven by Eric Liddell and eventually a Lola T142 Formula 5000 single-seater.

This machine was driven by the legendary Mike Hailwood, one of the few drivers to compete at Grand Prix level both on motorcycles and in race cars.

This pinnacle of enjoyment was tragically terminated with the death of one of Nicoll’s drivers at Oulton Park in 1969.

But Nicoll remained a proud member of the British Motor Racing Drivers Club and followed every twist and turn of the Formula 1 season with unflagging enthusiasm.

It was inevitable, however, that family responsibilities would eventually call him home and take precedence and Nicoll duly entered the family firm. The untimely deaths of his parents in 1963 and 1964 and consequent death duties impoverished the business to the extent it was sold to Derbyshire Stone and then on to Tarmac.

Nicoll’s experience and strong work ethic, however, led to his retention by the new owners for many years before a curious twist of fate led him to return to the motor trade in which he excelled.

The family had by this time moved to The Grange in Galashiels, probably Nicoll’s spiritual home.

A large house, it was constantly filled with friends and laughter – unsurprisingly, as Nicoll delighted in throwing innumerable parties. He was the perfect host, attentive, entertaining, revelling in sporting stories and memories, especially rugby of which he possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge. No mean player himself, he had turned out on the right wing for Edinburgh Academy and was the try-scorer in a rare victory for his school against its long-time rivals, Fettes College. It was a feat remembered and no doubt embellished during reunions. He took great pride in having been selected for the Scottish Schools side in 1950.

Nicoll and his wife, Mary, a former nurse, had moved to Melrose in 1983. This was a happy time for the Cuthbert family.

Nicoll continued to contribute to Borders society, serving on the local community council for four years and with the Selkirk Chest Heart and Stroke Club. He also helped attend to the episcopal churchyard in High Cross Avenue, Melrose.

Quite simply, Nicoll liked people, and was always ready to help others less fortunate and they responded.

In his later years, he grew into gardening which he approached with discipline and precision, qualities he had exhibited throughout his working life. Mary filled the role of plants expert, while Nicoll was chief labourer and it was a perfect combination as their beautiful garden showed.

Allied to this was Nicoll’s love of wildlife, especially birds which he loved to study and photograph. It was only recently that Nicoll was lamenting the delayed arrival of swifts. Poignantly, perhaps, the soaring birds suddenly appeared in numbers over the Cuthbert home during the evening of Nicoll’s death.

Nicoll and Mary were married for 54 years. A close and committed couple, it was fitting that they were together, as always, at the time of Nicoll’s death.

It was just a year ago, that Nicoll had helped to nurse Mary back to recovery following major surgery.  

Never renowned for his ascetic lifestyle, nor genetic longevity, Nicoll had carried with him an air of invincibility, constantly involved and active, and an appearance that belied his four score years.

He brightened, lightened and enlivened the lives of so many and he will be sorely missed.

The suddenness of his death has shocked and surprised many. A good friend of Nicoll’s lamented: “Nicoll seemed indestructible.”

Nicoll is survived by Mary and their three children – Anthony, Michael and Susan, of whom he was inordinately proud – and six grand-children, all a source of endless joy.