Selkirk has lost one of its most successful businessmen and sportsmen through the death of Leslie Walker. He was 79.
Born and bred in Selkirk, Mr Walker left the town during the mid-1960s to work for Linton Tweeds in Carlisle, helping to transform the company’s fortunes and rising to become its managing director.
He was no less successful on the rugby field. A tenacious openside flanker, as well as having a trial for Scotland, he played for the South against the touring Springboks at Hawick in 1960, and captained Selkirk’s 1st XV in season 1960/61. He skippered the Souters to victory in their own sevens in 1960 – the first time they had won the cup since 1923.
Born in 1934, after leaving Selkirk High School Mr Walker won a place at Jordanhill College to train as a PE teacher, but at the last moment changed his mind and began work at Heather Mills (which had been started by his grandfather in the late 1890s).
He combined his duties at the mill with studying for a diploma in textile design at Galashiels Technical College, and at the age of 21 was called up for National Service. He received a commission in the Royal Air Force, and on being demobbed returned to Heather Mills.
As the mill had no real opening for a designer at that time, Mr Walker went on an extensive work study course, eventually returning to Heather Mills to conduct time and motion studies into improving the operation of its weaving, spinning and paper felts mills.
In 1963 he was contacted by George Linton, of Carlisle-based company Linton Tweeds, asking if he would join the firm, which at that time was losing money.
Mr Walker took over as manager, introducing a range of cost-saving measures and innovations that helped bolster the company’s international standing.
Long-standing links with French designer Coco Chanel were strengthened, and under Mr Walker’s guidance Linton Tweeds was able to supply other prestigious international fashion houses.
He was appointed the company’s managing director in 1969, taking a less active role in 1994, being succeeded by his son, Keith, who remains as managing director today.
Mr Walker married Carole, also from Selkirk and who was a gym teacher, in 1960. The couple went on to have three children – Keith, Bruce and Sally.
Leslie Walker’s second son, Bruce – managing director of Westwood Landscaping in Carlisle, a company taken over by Linton Tweeds in 2003 – said his father was someone who always put people first.
He said: “He was a fantastic role model and acted with complete integrity at all times. Following him into the business, my brother and I learnt so much from him, as did the whole Linton Tweeds team.”
Life-long friend Dougie Scott, who was best man at Mr Walker’s wedding, said Leslie Walker was “a Souter through and through” who always harboured a deep affection for his home town.
He recalled the day in 1953, when he and Leslie were both teenagers, that they’d gone to the Selkirk Picture House.
Not long into the programme the pair were approached by Selkirk RFC official Tom Henderson, who told them to “get away home” as they’d been drafted into Selkirk’s senior team as late replacements for Earlston Sevens the following day. Selkirk managed to make it to the final, going down to a strong Hawick side.
Selkirk Rugby Club life member Bert Duffy remembers Les Walker as a truly inspirational figure, saying: “He was extremely popular and very well respected by everyone at Philiphaugh. He helped me a great deal when I came into the 1st XV, always offering plenty of encouragement and always leading by example.”
Mr Walker is survived by his wife Carole, sons Keith and Bruce, daughter Sally, and by six grandchildren.