Past President and latterly Honorary President of ‘Let it Blaw’, Jim Tait was born in the schoolhouse, Sandwick, Shetland, in 1922. His contribution to ‘Let it Blaw’ as chairman of the Supper on four occasions, committee man and diplomat cannot be overstated. The two ‘Immortal Memories’ presented by Jim in verse will long be remembered.
Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’
Born 27th November 1922 in Sandwick, Shetland
Died 29th April 2011 in Edinburgh, aged 88
” Jim “
Proposer of the Toast “The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns” 1981, 2003
Proposer of the Toast ” The Lasses” 1982, 1994
Recited the Address “To a Haggis” 1983
Proposer of the Toast “Let it Blaw – the Balerno Burns Club” 1984
Recited “Tam o’ Shanter” 1985, 1993, 2002, 2007
Reply to the Toast “The Lasses” 1987
Reply to the Toast “Guests & Artistes” 1988
Proposer of the Toast “New Members & Guests” 2000
Proposer of the Toast “Our Hosts” or “The Landlord – Landlady” 2001
James Williamson Tait, past President, and latterly Honorary President of ‘Let it Blaw’, was born in the schoolhouse, Sandwick, Shetland, in 1922. He was educated at Sandwick Primary School where his father was the Headmaster, and the Anderson High School in Lerwick. During his formative years, he developed a love of sailing and Island folklore, with a particular interest in prose and verse inspired by his brother Billy, a noted Shetland poet. He was also involved in local football with Lerwick Junior Rangers.
- Sandwick, Shetland
At the age of 16 Jim joined the Post Office Engineering Department, now BT, as a Youth Trainee. He spent his entire working life with the organisation working up the tree from local engineer in Shetland to Head of External Planning for BT in Scotland at the time of his retiral in 1984. After that, he spent some of his time working in the Longstone Adult Training Centre in Edinburgh.
Jim was a lifelong member of the Labour Party and was elected to the Lerwick Town Council in 1958. Following promotion to the mainland, Jim’s name was put forward to stand for the Orkney and Shetland Constituency at a General Election but he declined for family reasons; not, we are told, because the sitting Member was the redoubtable Jo Grimmond, then leader of the Liberal Party.
Following promotion to Edinburgh, Jim met schoolteacher Phyllis Robb and they married in 1963 setting up home in Blackford Avenue. In 1971 they moved to Balerno where their home in Lovedale Avenue became a mecca for family and friends, with a packed “open house” at New Year being one of THE annual events for many of us. His interest in the Labour Party continued with him working in the Pentlands Constituency where his friend, and fellow ‘Let it Blaw’ member Hugh Fraser MBE QPM, was for years the Conservative Member in the local Council; a cause of much hilarious banter at ‘Let it Blaw’ suppers.
Hugh Fraser with Jim
Jim became active in the Balerno Bowling Club eventually becoming Minute Secretary. In his 70s, following an injury to his right arm, he strove to play bowls with his left hand, a feat which earned him considerable plaudits. His other interests at this time were photography becoming President of the Edinburgh Photographic Society, and the Edinburgh Shetland Association. He was founder member of the Aurora Borealis Club, a convivial organisation probably best described as a Speakers’ Club, set up in 1979 by his fellow senior staff members at BT in Edinburgh, most of whom hailed from the North of Scotland and the Northern Isles; the only rule at the outset was that to join, you had to have seen the Northern Lights. Needless to say he ended up President of the ABC also. For many years, as befitted a member of the Edinburgh Shetland Association, Jim, Phyllis and family returned to his native Shetland to recapture the magic of his beloved Northern Isles. In recent years several members of ‘Let it Blaw’, having been invited to join the conviviality of the ABC by Jim, enjoyed their first experiences of Orkney and Shetland under his guidance.
His friend and neighbour in Lovedale Avenue, Arthur Lucas, invited Jim to join the Marchbank Burns Club where he became one of the stalwarts, serving as Club Bard for 20 years and President for 3 years. Late in 1978, Jim joined ‘Let it Blaw’ and he was joined shortly thereafter by a close friend and neighbour Donald Hastie. There’s no record of what Jim contributed to the harmony in 1979 and 1980 but, by the Centenary Supper of 1981, he was so highly respected, he was asked to propose the “Immortal Memory” at the most important Supper the Club had ever held.
Jim gave his Toast in verse and such was the quality of the oration, it was talked about over the next 22 years until 2003 when, on the occasion of Let it Blaw’s 100th Supper, he was invited to propose the same ‘Immortal Memory’ again. So, it was with the unanimous approval of Club Members, that he dusted down the 1981 Toast, and the Immortal Memory in verse received a second airing. To read Jim’s Toast in rhyme please click on Jim Tait’s “Immortal Memory” at the 100th ‘Let it Blaw’
Over the years, Jim proposed all the main Toasts at ‘Let it Blaw’, some more than once, and would contribute to the harmony of the evenings with recitations of most of Burns’ finest works. The one he loved doing best was “Tam o’ Shanter” which he recited at our Suppers on four occasions. He said he found it the easiest poem to recite from memory due to the manner in which the story flowed through the lines. “Willie Wastle” was another one of his favourites, but Jim’s contribution to ‘Let it Blaw’ can best be summed up by the fact that if something needed done, and nobody else was offering, he was always there ready and willing. Jim was always there to encourage and help younger members to take their first step on to the ‘Let it Blaw’ toast list and many of us have benefitted from his wise words over the years. Jim was President of ‘Let it Blaw’ and Supper Chairman for four years from 1989 to 1992 and, in 1995, was granted Honorary Membership and appointed Honorary President, an Office he held for over 17 years.
A few weeks before he died, Jim was granted Honorary Life Membership of the Marchbank Burns Club in recognition of his contribution to Club affairs over a 30 year period.
Jim took a massive stroke from which he never recovered, dying on 29th April 2011. His long and active life, both in his native Shetland and adopted Edinburgh, was celebrated at his funeral service held in a packed Balerno Parish Church on 11th May 2011. Jim would have been a bit humbled by the massive turn-out, with the service relayed to the adjacent Church Hall which was also full to capacity; yet more standing around the sides, and yet more flooding out the door. He would have found the funny side that so many were in attendance, a Traffic Warden had to come along and oversee the traffic problems. Jim is survived by his wife Phyllis, who herself in recent years has received two local awards for community service, and by his three sons, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Finally, Jim would have expected anyone writing an obituary to include something of Burns. So, from the Epitaph on William Muir of Tarbolton Mill;
The friend of man, the friend of truth
The friend of age, and guide of youth,
Few hearts like his with virtue warmed.
Few heads with knowledge so informed.
Details of Jim’s early life are extracted from the Obituary written by ‘Let it Blaw’ member Ronnie Crichton, and published in ‘The Scotsman’ on 4th May 2011.
Thanks to ‘Let it Blaw’ member Jim West, Secretary of the Marchbank Burns Club, for details from the Marchbank Club’s records.