obituaries William Rodger

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The Independent Online
At a time when local councillors are being denigrated and pilloried - often quite outrageously, as in the case of the Monklands councillors - it is salutary to be reminded that there is another side to the coin. There are men and women who, selflessly, and with little or no personal gain, other than the knowledge that they are serving the community, sweat it out in interminable meetings, making humdrum - but locally important - decisions. Such duties they often carry out in time which they could have happily spent with their families.

Such councillors were and are estimable men and women. Such a man was William Rodger. His life was steeped in public service.

Rodger was born into a mining family in Bo'ness - on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, and in late medieval times the third largest port in Scotland - during the First World War. Like many other families, they were determined that son should not follow father down the pit. So at the age of 14, after attending Kinneil Primary School, and Grange Secondary School in Bo'ness, William Rodger started work with Forth Chemical Company, Grangemouth. Apart from his war service as a signaller, attached to the Scots Guards, followed by a short spell as a specialist worker with John Brown's ship-yard in Glasgow, Rodger worked at the Grangemouth complex, with ICI and BP, for nearly half a century.

The mainspring of Rodger's life was to promote the well- being of Bo'ness and its community of some 12,000 people. Over the 30 years to 1990 Rodger was successively chairman of the Town Council, the District Council and the Community Council, chairman of ad hoc committees and innumerable sub-committees essential to civic progress, and prime mover in many a project.

One of Rodger's qualities was his sheer stamina in maintaining interest in schemes until completion, a rather rare quality in public life; many other councillors start schemes - rather fewer see them through to the finish.

Another quality was that elusive capacity of being perceived to be workable with. It was this which contributed to the decision of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society in 1985 to establish their museum, unique north of York, in Bo'ness, locomotives, track and all.

A third quality was willingness to back the unusual; for example when the proposal was made to open up the disused Birkhill clay mine to the public, people reacted, "Who'd be interested to visit a dark clay mine?" The fact that there have been thousands of visitors going into the bowels of the earth underground every year for a decade vindicated Rodger's backing for such vision.

Bo'ness - the medieval Borrowstouness - was the Roman settlement at the East End of the Antonine Wall, the "barricade" between the Forth and Clyde Estuaries, the ultimate northern boundary at the heyday of Roman occupation. The anthropologist Professor Frank Girling, of Leeds University, did a study in the 1950s of the various family lineages of Bo'ness: the Sneddens, the Sneddons, the Grants, the Robertsons and the Rodgers - and divided them into sub-lineages such as the "Bugle Sneddons", "the Monkey Sneddons", and "the Yellow Sneddens". Girling made a convincing case that Bo'ness people were perhaps the most ethnically Roman in Britain. Bo'ness is a much-intermarried community, though, given the vigour of its people in sallying forth as engineering and chemical industry experts all over the world, not in-bred.

Post-war, Bo'ness was in danger of becoming a "dump". The pottery, famous for its mass-produced white china, overtaken by new technology, closed. MacLellan's ship-chandlers found that the ships which it broke up in inter-war years ended their days in the Far East. The foundry, which had made most of the manhole covers for the sewers of Britain - look carefully walking along many a London pavement, and you will detect the letters Bo'ness Iron Company - closed, along with two neighbouring foundries, leaving only one, in a town where James Watt had worked at the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

That Bo'ness today is a vibrant community owes much to William Rodger, and to his fellow councillors. They created a sense of community, particularly through the Bo'ness Fair, the most elaborate children's festival in Scotland, established in 1897 and held at the end of June. Thirty years on, successful international businesswomen look back with pleasure to their Fair Day as a (usually goose- pimpled) fairy. Bo'ness Heritage was set up and, though no Beamish, let along Ironbridge, it commanded the interest of Sir Neil Cossons, the present Director of the Science Museum.

But Rodger's greatest achievement was those endless, unsung tasks which he carried out, like many a selfless councillor, over five decades, for his fellow citizens.

Tam Dalyell

William Rodger, chemical worker and local politician: born Bo'ness, West Lothian 8 November 1915; chairman, Bo'ness Town Council 1959-68, District Council 1969-76, Community Council 1977-90; MBE 1991; married 1944 Margaret Robertson (one son); died Falkirk 19 June 1995.