Hawick stalwart Ronnie Tait died on Christmas Day at the age of 85

The town of Hawick has lost another weel-kent local character with the passing of Hawick Common Riding singing legend Ronnie Tait, who died on Christmas Day at the age of 85 surrounded by the love of his family.

By Paul Kelly
Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 10:40 am
Ronnie Tait.
Ronnie Tait.

Famed for his performance of the traditional Borders ballad, Meda’s Song, larger-than-life Ronnie was the last surviving founder member of the 1514 Club. He was also a former player and lifelong passionate supporter of Hawick Linden RFC.

Hawick born and bred, Ronnie started his working life as a wool grader and wagon driver for MacTaggarts Skinworks. His children have happy memories of the times that he would take them with him to Glasgow delivering skins to the docks. When the lorry was empty he let the children run up and down on the back of it before having a picnic of a pint of milk, white bread sandwiches with lettuce and salad cream.

He was also an agent with Pearl Assurance for many years, as well as serving in the Scots Guards as a physical training instructor.

Sign up to our daily The Southern Reporter Today newsletter

Tributes have been paid to Ronnie’s immense contribution to town life over several decades with an outpouring of support for the family, in-person and on social media.

Leading the accolades was his son, John, who recalled not only a loving father but also a best pal - “he was a one-off, a rough diamond and I loved him. To say I'm going to miss him is a huge understatement. I spoke to my dad every day.”

But to many he is best remembered for his passionate renditions when singing in St Leonard's Hut at Hawick Common Riding. Hawick historian Ian Landles accompanied Ronnie on piano for three decades during his Common Riding performances and recalled: "He was a larger-than-life character. Meda’s Song was his song, and I accompanied him in the hut for near enough 30 years on the piano and he'd always give me a big hug when we were finished.”

John said: "Dad took over singing Meda’s Song in 1960 and has sung it every year, bar one, since then. There have been years when they have not had him up to sing, and the followers refused to come out of the hut until dad had sung.

"He's the last founder member of the 1514 Club. Ronnie Murphy and dad, along with a few of the boys, had got together in a pub and decided that they would set up a new club, not to compete with the Mosstroopers or the Callants Club, this was to be a club that would be set up for people who weren't Cornets or Acting Fathers.”

Together with son John, and nephew Michael Aitken, who is the Hawick Common Riding Official Song-Singer, and an array of local talent, Ronnie would be seen in the old folks’ homes, at Burns Suppers and concerts, up until lockdown, entertaining audiences with an extensive repertoire of ballads.

Playing for Hawick Linden RFC during the 1950s and 60s, Ronnie was a member of the team that won the 1954 Langholm Junior 7s. He proudly played alongside his brother Jack when he made his Club debut in 1960, with Ronnie marking the occasion with a try. He thoroughly enjoyed supporting his son John when he played for the Royal Blues and remained a loyal supporter of the club, attending games up until early last month. He was always delighted to favour the company with a post-match song or two in the clubrooms.

An accomplished horseman, since first following Cornet Billy Cavers in 1949, Ronnie hired or owned horses up until 2021, encouraging all of his children to take to horseback.

A statement from the Common Riding Committee added to the many tributes, saying: "It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of Ronnie Tait, another Common Riding stalwart. Ronnie was probably best known for his singing at numerous events over the Common Riding period and for concluding the Friday morning hut with his rendition of the Meda’s Song. He was also a great supporter whether on horseback or a willing hand you could rely on for all things Common Riding, as well as being a valued member of many clubs within the town. He will be greatly missed but especially by the Common Riding fraternity. We take this opportunity to send our sincere condolences to Gladys and the family at this sad time."

Hawick councillor Stuart Marshall was a family friend of the Taits for many years. He said: "I think our town will be deeply saddened to hear of Ronnie's passing and he was such a character that he lived and breathed everything Hawick. He was a great family man and he supported our town in so many ways whether it be rugby, following the Cornet or performing at many suppers or dinners throughout the year. A real worthy of the town and each year in June Ronnie Tait made Hawick Common Riding his 'first love and his last'."

Ronnie was also a regular guest at the Braw Lads Breakfast in Galashiels, for many years, when he and the late Viv Sharp would be one of the highlights of the breakfast entertainment.

Gala’s Richie Gray commented: “I’m saddened to hear that one of Hawick’s great personalities has gone. Ronnie was always a great supporter of anything I organised. We are running short of genuine characters – such as Ronnie.”

A weel-used saying of Ronnie’s which was often heard on his jaunts away from Hawick was the old adage “a day oot o’ Hawick is a day wasted.

Ronnie is survived by his wife Gladys, daughters Claire, Bronwen, Judith, Stephanie and Son John along with nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Seated on his horse at the top of a Border hill, he was heard to say “Oor millionaires and o deh ken it!” – how true.