Farewell to Scotland’s oldest paper boy


My father’s funeral service took place last Thursday, January 18th, 2007 at Fetteresso Church, Stonehaven and he was buried at Fetteresso Cemetry, Kirkton, Stonehaven.

My tribute delivered at the funeral is below – not sure I did full justice to 92 years of life, but I hope he would have appreciated it. Many thanks for all the kind words and support from an army of people over the last two weeks.

The life of Alexander Bruce Smith was both long and extraordinary.

Born in Drumlithie in 1915, he grew up on a small farm called Cuttiesouter, up the Auchenblae road – Alex’s descriptions of his early childhood could have come straight from the pages of Sunset Song.

From these tough, but happy, beginnings – and like so many fellow Scots before him – he developed an early wanderlust.

His chosen route away from the Mearns was through the RAF. However, his mother didn’t want him to join  – so she put his draft papers on the fire. Undeterred, he reapplied and with typical Smith stubbornness, eventually joined, albeit a year later than originally planned.

It was the beginning of an amazing period of travel and adventure.

The British troop presence in the Afghanistan/North-West India Frontier region is a regular feature in the news today – and we shouldn’t forget that 70 years ago, British forces were performing a similar role. Alex was one of their number – and the sights, sounds and experiences of that time must have seemed a world away to him from the North East life.

One of his jobs was to drive a truck through the Khyber Pass – others seemed to return with vehicles riddled with bullet holes. He was never shot at once. This was the beginning of what he himself described as a “charmed life”.

During the Second World War, he never saw action once. As he put it, wherever he went, the enemy either surrendered or retreated. He was Britain’s secret weapon – he once joked that if they’d sent him to Japan, perhaps the Americans wouldn’t have had to drop the atomic bomb….

Returning to Britain after the war, he met and married the love of his life, our mother, Enid May.

They settled in post-war Coventry. He wasn’t afraid of hard work and at one point he held down three jobs at once to bring up a young family. He was also a great believer in self- improvement, studying in his spare time and attending evening classes.

It helped him to achieve a good job with Midland Counties Dairy. But in 1970, he was made redundant. However, always a “glass half full” man, he saw this as an opportunity to finally run his own business.  He moved along with the rest of the family back to Stonehaven to run a milk delivery operation.

More hard work turned this into a going concern. It also saw the emergence of one of the most famous fashion items on the street’s of Stonehaven – the balaclava.

The business grew and in 1973 he opened a newsagent shop in Mary Street. He enjoyed talking to customers and they could always count on what could diplomatically be called “high calibre debate” whether about psychology, politics or sport.

Of course, any reference to Alex’s life needs to mention sport. There were 4 areas that were particularly dear to his heart:

–    football – he was Aberdeen FC’s biggest fan – and critic. He always said that if won the lottery, the first thing he’d do was buy the club. At least he departed with a victory for the Dons over Kilmarnock.

–    tennis – he was a very good tennis player – according to Alex, if not for the war, he would have won Wimbledon.

–    cross country running – ran for top athletic club Coventry Godiva Harriers

–    draughts – he was one of Scotland’s leading draughts  players.
   
His draughts playing also took him far and wide – to the Orkney’s and to Ireland and many places in England. He represented his country and won numerous trophies. I know he had many friends from the Aberdeen Draughts Club and the wider draughts community who will miss his competitive spirit.

Turning to his later life, when mum died in 1995, he immersed himself in tracing the Smith family tree. He pursued this activity with his usual energy, enthusiasm and determination.

A good example of his single-minded focus were the trips he made to Canada to seek and find long lost relatives. You have to admire him for simply booking a plane ticket to Canada and literally turning up on people’s doorsteps and introducing himself.  Of course, he was welcomed with open arms – and his natural charm went a long way in helping to trace the family tree – by his own reckoning he’d discovered 400 Canadian relatives and 200 in the United States – and this was only the tip of the iceberg, he said.

We also shouldn’t forget that he was incredibly active up until only a few years ago. He would still rise at 5am every morning – Scotland’s oldest paper boy.

All in all, a hard-working, funny, loyal and intelligent self-made man who lived life to the full. As he himself said only recently – I may be old, but I’m young at heart. He’ll be greatly missed by the family – Joan, Jim, Stan and myself – his sister Dot, his brother David, his grandchildren James, Jawad, Adam and Archie. In fact the town of Stonehaven has lost a great character. But I’m sure he would not want us to look at this as a sad occasion, but more of a celebration of a long and fulfilled 92 years.

In fact, his favourite phrase before he retired for bed every night was:

“Ah, but it’s a great life.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe his.

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