Obituary: John Calder

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The Independent Online
John Calder, local government official: born Dundee 11 July 1914; Deputy County Clerk, West Lothian 1947-50, County Clerk 1950-74; married 1940 Vida Carmichael (one son, one daughter); died Bo'ness 9 May 1993.

LONG before it was commonplace to see twinning arrangements between local authorities in Britain and local authorities on the Continent, West Lothian County Council had developed a close relationship with Hauchsaeurlandkreis in the Federal Republic. It was not just a congenial excuse for councillors and officials to get together with their German counterparts. Businessman met businessman. Rotarian met rotarian. Children played with children. Sportsman and sportswoman met their German contemporaries. That this valuable activity took place at all, and was followed widely by other authorities, was due above all to the enthusiasm and drive of one individual - John Calder, for a quarter of a century County Clerk of West Lothian.

Born in 1914, Calder was one of a generation who were determined that the scars of war could best be avoided by the encouragement of a mosaic of personal relationships between British and Germans. Calder grew up in Dundee between the wars, and went to school at the redoubtable Morgan Academy. His father had hoped that he would follow in his footsteps in the family solicitor's business, after he had trained as a lawyer at Dundee University. Calder preferred to work for the local authority in Kirkcaldy.

In 1947, Calder came to Linlithgow, as Deputy County Clerk. Three years later, he was promoted to the position of County Clerk which he was to occupy until his retirement at the age of 60 in 1974. He told me that, like many of his contemporaries, he simply could not face the upheaval and hassle involved in local government reorganisation.

With consummate skill, Calder guided his vigorous and far-seeing council through two unusual and tricky industrial problems. The first was the slow demise of the West Lothian shale-oil industry, first created by James 'Paraffin' Young in the 1880s. The shale of the Lothians, unique in Britain, produced high- grade aero-engine oil, and industrial wax. Faced by the Macmillan government's refusal to allow shale-oil tax advantages, the last mine closed in 1962. Calder led a conspicuously successful drive to attract firms, which would give employment to 50-year- old ex-shale-miners.

His second preoccupation was providing the infra-structure for the Macmillan government's 'Gift to the Scots' - the truck and tractor factory of BMC at Bathgate, later to become the biggest machine-shop under one roof in Europe. As Colin Mailer, Editor of the Linlithgow Gazette, and last year's Chairman of the Guild of Newspaper Editors, puts it: 'When, way back in the late 1950s, the government-inspired move to encourage BMC to establish a tractor and truck plant at Bathgate almost foundered - there were unforeseen obstacles in the sale of the necessary ground - John Calder, virtually single-handedly, drove the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. He brought to all his dealings a deep knowledge of his subject, an old-world courtesy and an air of one who carried his knowledge and authority lightly.'

At a time when it is fashionable to denigrate the work of Local Authorities, we tend to forget what a huge contribution for the good hundreds of dedicated senior local authority officials made to the rebuilding of post- war Britain.

(Photograph omitted)