The untimely death on January 26th of Gerald Tait, a great Borders character, public servant and dedicated Coldstream volunteer has left a huge void and a deeply saddened community.
Many knew him far better than I; his work with Midlothian Council in Dalkeith, the Coldstream Historical Society, the Flodden 1513 Club and in raising funds for Coldstream FC built Gerald a whole townful of admirers. Nonetheless, he was someone I was proud to call my friend.
Gerald wasn’t just kind and incredibly able, he was a great wit and raconteur in true Borders tradition. His one-liners, japes and tall tales have entertained many a great night in Coldstream and beyond.
With Susan ever at his side, he was a giant of a man in a town that over its history has produced more than most. He will not be easily forgotten by any who knew him.
Receiving news of his passing after a year or so of ill health has reached me in Ghana, which will keep me from paying my respects and supporting his widow, Susan, and their family at his funeral in Coldstream on Tuesday, February 5th.
It also prevents me researching the kind of obituary Gerald deserves so, like a true journalist, I have plundered the following item from the archives of the Berwickshire News of January, 2006 which recorded a deserved honour accorded to Gerald by his own grateful community.
SINCE moving to Coldstream from Northumberland 26 years ago Gerald Tait and his wife Susan have fully embraced the town’s community spirit and the enthusiasm they continue to have for so much of what goes on locally was acknowledged recently when Gerald was presented with the Brown-Scott Quaich – presented every year to a Coldstream resident who has made a notable contribution to the town.
An unsuspecting Gerald was persuaded along to ‘help out’ at the old folks’ Christmas party held in the town’s Royal British Legion hall last month. After the meal Alex Thomson, chairman of Coldstream Community Council, began describing the involvement of this year’s Brown-Scott Quaich recipient, and slowly but surely the penny began to drop for Gerald.
Afterwards, he spoke of how he felt receiving the honour.
“When you win an award like the Brown-Scott Quaich you always think there are more deserving cases, which I’m sure there are, but I was delighted, and surprised, to receive it from Alex.
“Alastair Brown-Scott had a marvellous community spirit and he and wife Ros were very supportive of the good things in the community. I miss Alastair so much because he was as daft on Robert Burns as me and he was invariably behind any new ventures that the Burns Club embarked upon.
“I was delighted when Ros agreed to do a toast at [the next month’s] Burns Supper. If she gets stuck for words, which she won’t, ABS will be guiding her along.
“In a community like Coldstream the word ‘volunteer’ is very important and I cite one classic example. The ladies will hate me for mentioning them but the lady volunteers of the Royal British Legion are absolutely brilliant and totally indispensable. And so are their cohorts Jim Cockburn and Jim Imrie in keeping the fortunes of the Legion going.
“I fair love a bit of banter wi’ the ladies at the Burns Supper, and you cannot deflect them from their business, they are so well organised.
“I could cite a few more community stalwarts but I would need a whole page.
“As an employee of Midlothian Council in Dalkeith I am involved in community projects, principally helping to ensure that the bigger ones don’t go belly up, and I get a wee buzz out of helping the Midlothian community.
“However, at 5 o’clock every night I leave that community, as I return to Coldstream, and there is a wee bit of emptiness in that.
“What I mean is you only get true community satisfaction and pride when you do something on your own doorstep, however small it may be. The lassies who organised last year’s ‘Stars in Your Eyes’ will never forget that evening, and neither will the audience, as it showed the extent of the community spirit and how the community can organise itself and rally round a good cause.
“In joining the Flodden 1513 Club I never thought I would be helping manage a £27,000 budget to build a monument. But here we are, in the middle of a major project that will produce tangible results and the 1513 Club members are brilliant in giving support.
“The Brown-Scott Quaich sits pride of place in my hoose, next door to a wee photo of my granddaughter Leah, and I regularly think to myself that things cannot get much better. Unless Newcastle United win the European Cup, which is as likely as NHS Borders putting forward a credible argument for closing the local hospital!
“I pray for the day when the public services fully support the efforts of the volunteers in places like Coldstream. Despite the sterling efforts of Councillors Law and Moffat and the community council over the years, Scottish Borders Council should do much more to help communities. You need not look far in Coldstream to see where ‘Government’ is letting the side down.”
No one, however, could accuse Gerald of letting his local community down and his nomination to receive the Brown-Scott Quaich acknowledges the time and energy he has put into local clubs, organisations and community events over the years.
He describes both his and his wife Susan’s inability to say no, when asked to be secretary or treasurer of a local organisation as a “serious character flaw”, but the will to change just isn’t there because Coldstream means too much to both of them.
REPORT, Berwickshire News, January 2006