Donald Reid

Promoter of Scottish exports
Click to follow

Donald Reid, soldier and trade promoter: born Cupar, Fife 4 February 1915; staff, Scottish Council for Development and Industry 1947-80; OBE 1972; married 1956 Elizabeth Pitillo; died Edinburgh 8 July 2006.

Nowadays, there is hardly a region of Britain that does not boast an energetic organisation promoting trade and investment links with countries abroad. In 1952, when Donald Reid was appointed Secretary of the Export Committee of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), after serving five years as a finance officer, he became part of a pioneering venture.

Twenty years and nearly 100 trade missions to 23 countries later, Reid's OBE citation was accurately "for services to export". He had, alongside Christopher Macrae, his first chief executive, and Lord Bilsland, the banker and President of SCDI, and his friend, contemporary and boss the engineer William Robertson, Chief Executive of SCDI, played a vital part in the regeneration of the Scottish economy, in the three decades where manufactured exports were deemed of crucial significance.

Allow an obituarist to dwell on just one of the missions in which Reid was hands-on organiser, baggage manager, conductor of a businessman's orchestra, and factotum-in-chief. As a 40-year-old MP, I was asked to go along in 1971 on the first trade mission from a Western European country to the People's Republic of China, then in the last stages of the Cultural Revolution. It was an eye-opener. Unlike any politician's delegation I had ever been on with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, over 17 days there was not a single instance of anyone - the leader of the delegation, Lord Clydesmuir, President of SCDI and a formidable grandee, or the senior export managers of Babcock and Wilcox, British Leyland, John Brown Engineering, G&J Weir Pump Manufacturers and British Aluminium - keeping colleagues waiting, even for a minute. As Eric Jamieson, electrical engineer and export manager of Ferranti's, put it, "You just did as Donald asked. No quibbling."

My own most cherished memory is of Reid tramping along the farm tracks of the Sino-Albanian Friendship Commune outside Peking, as it then was, engaged in warm translated conversation with two grizzled and gnarled veterans of Mao Tse-tung's Long March on the merits of stallions, horses, and mules.

Reid knew a lot about horses. As an 18-year-old, he had enlisted in the Royal Scots Greys in 1933, when they were still cavalry. One of his duties - he was jockey-sized and agile, and a later Scotland squash international - had been to exercise the horses of the colonels of the regiment. His skills had been further honed by five years as a commissioned officer in the 6th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, and two years as a fitter in Birmingham, until he was called up from the reserves.

Born in 1915, Reid was the oldest of five brothers and a sister. His father died when he was 10 years old and he shared responsibility for the family with his mother while he was still at school in Cupar. Perhaps this laid the foundation for an attitude of always taking responsibility for other people's problems - an invaluable attribute in one who was to spend his life helping industry to earn his countrymen's bread and butter.

Tam Dalyell