With the recent death at the age of 94 of Sandy Stewart of Gunhill, Inverurie, the North East has lost a pillar of the cattle industry and a beloved and respected member of its local farming community.
In his heyday he was a well-known figure in the northern and north-eastern markets, particularly in Inverness, Dingwall and Thurso, where he was a regular buyer of store cattle for many Aberdeenshire farmers as well as for his own farm. Until fairly recently he frequented the weekly Thainstone market where he enjoyed meeting up with farming friends of his own generation in a group affectionately known as the ‘House of Lords’ who meet weekly at the market for lunch .
In 2006, he fulfilled his lifelong ambition with 20 farmer friends to visit Argentina, attend the famous show in Palermo and embark on an arduous two-week tour to visit the Aberdeen-Angus herds in the province. from Buenos Aires. Even at the age of 79, he demonstrated a prodigious ability to eat steak, such was the quality of the steaks offered to him at every meal.
He went to Argentina determined to prove his belief that Argentinian beef was inferior to Scottish beef, but returned easily admitting that the beef he enjoyed in the country was actually “pretty good”.
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Sandy was born in Causewayfold, Wartle, in 1927, the second of nine siblings, and moved to Gunhill in 1929. He attended Daviot School, leaving aged 14 to start working on the farm , plowing with horses and feeding cattle in an attached byre. One of his earliest memories was that the Inverurie to Rothienorman road was tarmacked for the first time.
He belonged to a generation that saw massive changes in the way the world works. Although too young to be involved in the horrors of the Second World War, he was a member of the Air Training Corps and made regular trips and camps at RAF Lossiemouth and remembered the thrill of being in the gunsight capsule bomb in a Lancaster bomber in training. short.
At the age of 17 he was sent to Yorkshire to gain more farming experience with the Watt family who were of Scottish descent and farmed near Driffield next to an RAF base. A lasting memory was the bravery of the pilots “bringing downed bombers home safely” after raids on the mainland as they crossed the farm to return to base.
He also enjoyed socializing with Italian POWs working on local farms who would gather on a Saturday night for a meal of “whatever had been caught, shot or stolen” during the week. He remembered a particularly nice pasta meal and asked what the meat was. The cook informed him in broken English that it was like a little pig with spikes. In other words, a hedgehog!
Returning home to help his father, he soon began traveling north to buy calves which were shipped by train to Inverurie to supply local farmers. He then spent much of his life, continuing until well past retirement age, sourcing cattle for local farmers in northern markets which were delivered by rail and on foot to Gunhill or directly to other local farms.
He was held in very high regard for his fair and honest conduct in these dealings and befriended others in the same industry at the time, the late Alex Grant of Middlefield, Forres, and the late Gordon Wishart of Saphock, Oldmeldrum, being special friends.
Later, following the construction of a new abattoir in Inverurie by FMC-owned Inverurie Scotch Meat, he enjoyed sourcing finished cattle for ISM from the Insch and Inverurie markets and also directly from local farms.
At home he was a progressive farmer who followed trends in machinery and expanded the farming business at Gunhill when opportunities presented themselves.
Young farmers played a big part in his youth as a member of the Inverurie club where he became president and excelled in speaking, judging animals and shearing sheep.
In 1951, along with lifelong friends the late George Ritch of East Fingask, Inverurie, and the late George Shepherd, of Corsehill, Bucksburn, he was a member of the Inverurie team that won the Scottish National Fatstock judging competition Show in Edinburgh. The following year, he won the prize for the best individual in the national competition for young farmers.
Also in 1951, he was one of four young Scottish farmers selected for a six-month international exchange visit to the United States. One of the others was Kathleen (Kate) Scott from the Borders whom he married a year later. The group traveled on a freighter to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Sandy used to joke that it was on the blunt end of the ship that Kathleen captured him!
He had great stories from his six months in America where he spent time on farms in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado up north and also in Ohio. He spent much of his time on horseback living the life of a proper cowboy, eating steak and fried eggs for breakfast.
He was obviously in love with Kate, who was in Kentucky and Montana, and devised all kinds of schemes to visit her, showing up in style on one occasion “quite the boy” after borrowing his family’s Cadilac of reception.
Sandy and Kathleen then traveled to a different European country every year as part of the International Farm Youth Exchange program for former expats, which they enjoyed very much. Sandy made a point of immersing himself in the culture of the country to visit each year, listening to audio of the relevant language in the car when he drove to livestock sales so he could converse with its hosts in their own language.
Away from farming, he was a founding member of the Daviot and Oldmeldrum Curling Club, which had an outdoor rink next to Moonie Castle. He remembered with amusement his concern at seeing his father, as well as the local blacksmith, Mr Booth of Daviot Smiddy, and Ian Strachan of Balquhain, Garioch Chapel, each weighing about 20 stones (130 kg), walking on the ice . The ice held up.
A lifelong passion was shooting. An excellent marksman, he was for many years the shooting captain at Straloch Estate, Newmachar, a role he thoroughly enjoyed.
He was also a founding member of Garioch Rugby Club, running the bar, aptly named Sandy’s bar, for many years, later becoming honorary chairman of the club. He especially enjoyed seeing the progress and development of young people as they grew into adults, often with Sandy’s sage guidance.
Always very sociable, he tended to ignore medical advice to limit his intake of alcohol, salt and red meat and readily admitted to having had more than his fair share of all three!
He was also an elder at Daviot Kirk for 30 years and later treasurer.
Mr. Stewart is survived by his wife, three sons, Alex, Tom and Jim and their families. Her grandchildren, Penny, Sasha and Amy, were her pride and joy.
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