Popular Braw Lad, rugby star and founder of Meigle Printers, dies aged 91

Galashiels and the Borders lost a true legend on the evening on June 16 when Alexander Kenneth McRae, (Ken or Kenny to friends and family) a former Braw Lad and founder of Meigle Printers, passed away peacefully and painlessly in his bed at Riverside Care Home, Selkirk, aged 91 years.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th July 2020, 4:31 pm
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 4:53 pm
Ken McRae, who died last month.
Ken McRae, who died last month.

Ken was a proud Gala man and a well-respected gentleman in many spheres. He was a talented rugby wing-forward in his younger days, a man with a waspish sense of humour (who always had a funny story up his sleeve) and a hard worker.

He was also an astute businessman and creative wordsmith; a man whose loyalty and integrity were matched only by his deep love for his family.

In life, Ken was a loving son, brother, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather and valued friend.

Ken McRae was Braw Lad in 1955.

Ken was an integral, reliable and faithful presence in Gala’s story.

He was born on June 12, 1929 at the family home in Wood Street, the first child of Jimmy and Jean. Jimmy was a skilled linotype operator in the printing industry, serving his time at McQueens, Galashiels, before co-founding Reiver Press in Gala in the 1940s.

Jimmy had served in the Great War and was one of the founding members of the Gala Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

Jean kept the house in Wood St and looked after Ken and his younger sisters Sheila and Anne.

Ken McRae with his wife Mina.

Ken enjoyed an idyllic childhood and was the last surviving member of the illustrious ‘Wood Street Gang’.

Ken and his pals made Meigle Hill and the Rye Haugh their territory, and many happy hours were spent there, swimming in the Gala Water during the summer months.

There was a deal of friendly rivalry with the other Gala gangs, especially the ‘Ash Street Gang’, but the notorious ‘5th Ward Ladhope Gang’ were avoided at all costs.

Ken recalled listening to the radio and hearing the war being declared. His dad served with the Royal Observer Corps, and is credited with devising a sophisticated early warning system for the mills so that they could maximise their production, and be ready to black out at a moment’s notice.

The war had little impact on Ken, except that he missed having sweeties and chocolate. His diet, however, was probably much healthier as a result.

Ken enjoyed cycling as a boy and there were memorable cycling holidays to North Berwick with his Dad and sister, Sheila.

Family holidays were also spent in Dunbar, and in boarding houses in Morecambe and Scarborough. Ken had a healthy appetite, of which one Scarborough landlady took full advantage, offering Ken extra helpings of pudding.

Of course, Ken didn’t ever refuse, but the extra helpings were added to the bill and it took all of the loose change in Jimmy’s pockets to settle up at the end of their stay.

Ken attended Ladhope Primary School and Galashiels Academy on the Melrose Road. He was a very able, but rather disinterested student. He was a keen rugby player, however, playing for Gala Red Triangle and Gala RFC, rising to the position of vice-captain for the Maroons. He was also selected to represent the South of Scotland.

When Ken left school, he began an apprenticeship as a linotype operator with his dad at Reiver Press. When his time was served he was called up for National Service. Ken joined the Royal Signals at Catterick and endured basic training under a rather uncompromising drill sergeant from Dundee.

When it was discovered that Ken had a talent for rugby, his square-bashing days were over. For the remainder of his service, he was a professional rugby player for the British Army, and he met and became lifelong friends with other rugby greats, such as Hughie McLeod from Hawick.

When he wasn’t on the rugby pitch, Ken was given the job of a travelling projectionist, showing films to troops that warned of the dangers of becoming involved with ladies (or men) of dubious virtue.

When Ken’s National Service ended, he returned to the printing and continued to play rugby. In 1955, he was proud to be elected as Braw Lad. He was a very popular choice, although not a particularly confident horseman, and in some photographs of Ken as Braw Lad, he wears a rather nervous smile.

He often spoke of his uncooperative mount and of his brush with controversy when a heavily-disguised lady tagged along with him on the ride to the Hut in Hawick.

His defence to the Hawick Cornets’ Committee was that he failed to notice the rider was a lady until half way to the hut. On his way to work the following Monday, Ken was shown a copy of the Daily Express, and found he was pictured on the front page, riding alongside the rebellious lady.

Meanwhile, Ken had caught the eye of Lanarkshire lass, Mina McLean, who also happened to be his wee sister Anne’s primary school teacher. A connection was soon made and a loving partnership began that would last a lifetime.

In 1956, Ken and Mina were married in Lanarkshire and their first home together was a flat on Plumtree Brae. From there, they moved to Gattonside and, on Christmas Eve, 1959, they became proud and loving parents to Neil.

When Ken’s dad passed away in the early sixties, Ken inherited his share of Reiver Press. During the heavy snows of 1963, Ken and Mina were delighted to welcome their daughter, Linn, and in 1966, they were loving parents for the third time when Jimmy was born.

That year, the family moved to Balnacoul in Forebrae Park on the High Road and Ken set up his own business – Meigle Printers. Mina found work as a teacher for the Laird of Gala and when all the bairns were in school, she became Ken’s assistant. Soon, the children were involved too, earning their pocket money, stapling raffle books, counting tickets and putting the pages in order for programmes, being especially busy around Melrose Sevens time.

Meigle Printers initially operated from two rooms in Bridge Street, and later from Anderson’s Chambers, and by the time Ken retired, he was employing eight full-time and two part-time workers.

When Ken retired, he sold the business to Ronnie Alan, at no time putting pressure on his children to take the reins.

Ken was a loving and doting grandfather to Anna, Patrick and Brodie. He relished his role as Grampa, and he spent more and more time with the grandchildren, loving their holidays together at Santa Ponsa, Majorca, where Ken, a sun lover, liked to top up his tan.

Ken also enjoyed two wonderful holidays in America with Neil, which were the realisation of a lifetime’s interest in American history and the ‘old wild west’.

Two hip replacements and heart surgery, rather than slowing Ken down, did the exact opposite.

Ken always had a great love and appreciation of music and his taste was wide-ranging.

This, he inherited, in part, from his mum who played the fiddle, and he passed it on to his sons who are both excellent pipers.

He was an avid reader and enjoyed his look through the Scotsman every day.

Like his father before him, Ken was a gifted after-dinner speaker, and he enjoyed writing poetry.

Ken spent his final years at Cornmill Court, Galashiels, and then Riverside Care Home, Selkirk.

The family thanks the staff at both places for their dedication and hard work, catering so well for Ken’s comfort and dignity.

Ken was a very special gentleman who will always be fondly remembered and very sorely missed by all who had the great good fortune to share their lives with him. There is no doubt that Ken is handsomely woven into Gala’s rich and colourful fabric, and Gala will miss him, but remember him with great fondness and appreciation.

J.McR.