Tributes paid to woman behind Hawick’s voice of rugby, Bill McLaren, after his widow Bette dies at 93

The old adage that behind every great man is a great woman could have been coined for Bette McLaren, who died last Friday aged 93.

By Kevin Janiak
Thursday, 7th March 2019, 10:16 am
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 2:42 pm
Bette McLaren unveils the statue of her husband Bill McLaren in Wilton Lodge Park, Hawick.
Bette McLaren unveils the statue of her husband Bill McLaren in Wilton Lodge Park, Hawick.

Many tributes have been paid this week to the woman behind the voice of rugby, Bill McLaren, a couple who together have helped put the town of Hawick on the world stage.

Born and brought up in the town where she spent her whole life, Bette Jane Gordon Hill first lived in Fisher Avenue before moving to Burnfoot, where she set up the McLaren family home.

Their daughter, Linda Lawson, said: “Dad loved to talk of their first meeting at a dance in the town hall on St Patrick’s Day 1947.

Bette McLaren and daughter Linda Lawson at the opening of the new McLaren Bridge in Hawick's Wilton Park.

“He talked of seeing a vision in white across the room.

“They danced the night away and fell in love, that love lasting over 60 years until his death in 2010.”

Linda added: “Seeing the love, affection and devotion of mum and dad over so many years, they were an example to us all. Mum has passed on to me and our family a love of the outdoors and of keeping active, something she was known for right through to her late 80s.

“She has always been elegant, glamorous and beautiful, with the warmest of smiles and a wonderful twinkle in her eyes.

Bette's grandson Rory Lawson, who has followed in his Papa's footsteps into the world of rugby commentating, posted a touching tribute to his Nana on social media.

“She loved music and dancing and liked nothing more than having a wee dance with dad whenever the music of Glen Miller or Frank Sinatra was played – which was often!”

Bette set out her stall in the early days of their relationship when she helped nurse Bill back to health after he caught tuberculosis, from which many died in those days.

He was laid low in the Fortune Sanatorium in Edinburgh for 19 months.

In an interview with a national newspaper before his death, Bill said: “At one stage, I told her not to bother with me anymore and to find herself a proper man, though I cried for a week after that until her next visit. She just ignored me – bit of a trend that, by the way – and just kept coming back week after week to breathe life into me.”

The couple were blessed with two daughters, Janie and Linda.

But there was heartache to come when in 2000, eldest daughter Janie, married to TV racing commentator Derek Thompson, died of cancer.

After Bill died in 2010, Bette had no shortage of wellwishers in her frequent walks along Hawick’s High Street.

Watson McAteer, the town’s honorary provost said: “I was very shocked to hear of the death of Bette McLaren at the weekend, acknowledging the end of an important piece of local history.

“The McLaren family have given so much for Hawick, with Bill and Bette a perfect couple who lived quietly but took every opportunity to praise our town on the world stage.

“The family name lives on through daughter Linda and the McLaren Foundation, and I would express my sympathy to her and the extended family on behalf of the townsfolk of Hawick.”

And a man who followed his granddad into rugby commentating, Linda’s son Rory Lawson, posted a heartwarming message on social media on Saturday.

It read: “A special commentary today, having lost our incredible nana last night. Counting our blessings that she was such a huge part of our lives for so long. 93 years. Missed already.

“She’ll be dancing in the streets of heaven with papa tonight, though, reunited.

“I’m off for a bowl of ketchup with a side of chips in your honour, nana.

“You’re the best.”