To many people in the agricultural sector, Ron Wilson has been, for the past 20 years, quite simply Mr Border Union Show.
While the 69-year-old may not be that well known in wider circles, his effortless style of calm leadership is one of the main reasons the numerous events at the Border Union Agricultural Society’s base of Springwood Park in Kelso goes without a hitch.
Whether it’s sorting out missing animals, keeping faultless records of entries and category winners or, as in the 2017 show, ensuring the toilets remained functional, Ron was at the heart of it.
So, when he finally leaves his post at the end of next month, his shoes will be tough ones to fill.
After taking over from Donald McLaren – who had himself been the society’s secretary for 13 years – Ron has overseen a lot of change at Springwood Park – home not only to the annual Border Union Show, but also the Ram Sales, a dog show, a children’s education day and the hub site for several group’s pilgrimages – such as Honda Goldwing owners and country and western enthusiasts – as well as serving as the region’s vote counting venue during national and local elections.
For Ron, becoming secretary in February 1998 was the next logical step for a man who had worked with his father’s pedigree Hereford stock at Cowbog Farm near Morebattle since 1965.
He said: “The first time my father showed here with pedigrees was 1959, and the first time I was in charge of an animal here was in 1968, and we were used to going to shows – I just loved the environment.
“When the job came up for secretary, I just thought I would apply for it and see what happens.”
The interview was a fairly intimidating affair ... with the society’s current chairman and five previous chairmen sitting on the panel.
He said: “Thankfully, I was offered the job and I took it. I was helped a great deal by my predecessor Donald McLaren, who truly was a fantastic man, very fair, and he had time for everybody. He was a fantastic help when I started.
“This is not a job you learn overnight – and it is even more the case now.
“It just takes time to learn the people and the contacts.”
One of his first tasks in the job was being part of a development committee which would look at changing Springwood Park forever, by planning to build a brand new exhibition hall – a multipurpose building with offices, conference rooms and a balcony, as well as two new toilet blocks and a shower block, a new entrance, and a tarred access road.
With the total cost estimated to be around £800,000, funding needed to be found.
Ron said: “What we had was a dozen grazing lets, an old shed and 300 sheep, so it was an exciting challenge. We went to see the convener of the council, who at that time was Drew Tulley. We half expected him to throw us out. But he had a look at our plans and said: ‘I think we should do a feasibility study on this.’
“We got fantastic support from the council and Scottish Enterprise Borders, in kind and in cash.”
However, the outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2001 – and the subsequent cancellation of that year’s show due to the banning of movement of livestock – couldn’t have come at a worse time, since many of the grants the society had garnered were on a matched-funding basis and the society had to rework its plans for the hall.
Ron said: “We built the exhibition hall into a glorified shed that dressed well, by which I mean it is totally adaptable to do anything.
“But while you can judge a restuarant by its red wine and cheeseboard, you can often judge a showground by its loos. And the showerblock was also so important.”
While the main event of the year has changed much over the years – the first Border Union Show was in 1813, held in the Knowes carpark in Kelso – Ron said it still provides much the same basic need for farmers.
He said: “The show is much the same for farmers now, it’s a place for them to meet, compete and socialise.”
However, unlike the show’s early days, it now provides a fantastic link between the agriculture sector and the public, and has become a leader in educating adults and kids alike in how food gets from field to plate.
Ron said: “Nowadays, the show is part of agriculture’s shop window. The environmental and rural education side has evolved through the years and will continue to do so after me.”
Ron finds it difficult to pick out one highlight of his 20 years in charge – but says the Schools Day – which takes every Borders P5 pupil to the showground – is one he is most proud of.
He said: “It was supposed to be a one-off in 2013 for the show’s bicentenary. Next year, will be our sixth schools day.”
Ron hands over the reins to new executive director Mags Clark at the end of December, and he says he is sure she will do brilliantly.
Ron added: “You have got to be a people’s person in this job, and having known her for several years, I think Mags is an excellent choice.”
Ron will continue to farm at Cowbog, and will be helping his son Robert out in his “Fluffy Moos” diversification business, which trains groups of people how best to prepare their animals for competition and sale.
He said: “They learn how to prep wash, blowdry, clip and titivate the cattle ... they smell wonderful!”
Ron has worked with many colleagues throughout his tenure – but there is one who stands out.
He said: “The one person I genuinely could not have done this without is my wife Joan. She has been an absolute brick.”