Kelso Probus Club stalwart John Laidlaw set to mark his century

FOUR days from now, a 90-strong gathering of friends and family will come together in Kelso’s Cross Keys Hotel to celebrate the 100th birthday of local resident, John Laidlaw.

Monday, 11th March 2013, 7:38 am

A native of Edinburgh, John and his late wife, Margaret, who had Kelso connections, settled in the town in 1981, following his retirement three years earlier.

John started his long career in the health service when he joined the Royal Infirmary as a junior clerk in 1928. He qualified as a chartered secretary and, after the creation of the NHS in 1948, became deputy secretary and treasurer of the board of management of Edinburgh Central Hospitals.

“After the First World War was over, they had wanted to make improvements to the buildings which they hadn’t been able to do during the war and needed a secretary – like a clerk of works.

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“You could say I developed along with the department and I had a wonderful career,” John told TheSouthern.

As with many others, his career was interrupted by the war: “I was in a reserved occupation, but I had no time for Mr Chamberlain and his little bit of paper and resolved that, when they came for me, I would go,” he said.

John trained as a wireless operator in the Royal Air Force, and was eventually attached to Mountbatten’s staff in the Far East, where he was in charge of a mobile signals unit. In 1966, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh bought the whole side of a street and a block of flats that joined the main thoroughfare. And it was then that John says he made one of the best decisions of his career.

He said: “We had one house left and a young lady doctor came into my office and pleaded to be allowed to use just one of the rooms in this house.

“She had been given a research grant and needed a room to carry that out and that was what eventually became the department of paediatric oncology.”

It was not long after this that the central board was dissolved and John was given responsibility for the Eastern General, Leith and Musselburgh hospitals, to add to the Royal Sick Kids, as secretary and treasurer.

When this was reorganised in 1974, John, then aged 60, became a general administrator in West Lothian, where he remained until his retirement.

However, he was invited to spend 18 months working on preparations to mark the Royal Infirmary’s 250th anniversary in 1979, which saw John and his wife presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Away from his career, John has enjoyed an interest in music.

“Between the wars I had a dance band, when I was 17. I played violin but the arrival of the saxophone took over.

“I was then given opportunity to lead a string quartet and eventually this became known as the John Laidlaw Quintet.”

Last year John received a certficate marking 65 years as a church elder, while another of his interests has been the local Probus Club in Kelso, and its members intend honouring John for his service.

President Philip Entwistle explained: “John has been a member of Kelso and District Probus Club for over 30 years.

“He is much loved and respected by our members and as part of our celebrations on his behalf, we have arranged a special lunch and have had made a glass sculpture, to be awarded in his name and which will be passed on annually to the retiring president of Probus.”