Obituary: Bill McGuire, Scotsman who boosted Oxfam’s presence across the country
After seven years of evening classes (1945-1952) at Heriot-Watt College in Edinburgh, Bill McGuire obtained an Associateship – renamed Degree – in chemistry. Starting out as a lab boy in the Chemistry Department at Surgeons Hall Medical School (1945-1947) when it merged with the University of Edinburgh Medical School, he was appointed as a lab technician to assist in the training of second-year medical students.
The middle child of a family of five in a top floor flat in Horne Terrace – renamed Thorneil Village when Edinburgh made major improvements to the accommodation including the installation of hot water and the replacement of indoor toilets by full bathrooms – they lived just across the Union Canal Bridge from a school friend he called “Titch” who later became known internationally as movie actor Sean Connery (in his youth, Connery took bodybuilding lessons with Andrew McGuire, Bill’s older brother).
Leaving Boroughmuir High School in 1945 with an advanced certificate in chemistry – or ‘science’, as it was then known – and with no money available to buy textbooks, Bill depended on regular visits to the Murdoch Terrace Public Library, located on the same street as the public laundry used twice a week by Mrs. McGuire for the family laundry. Bill said he once read a whole section of library books to understand his subject.
Speaking about his early upbringing, he said he thought he might have been dyslexic: “I always learned slowly but my pressing need to understand got me there.” His math teacher was asking the class if “anyone else” didn’t understand a point, “which led me to understand it when he explained a second time and I passed the exam. of mathematics”. He added: “A marvelous physical chemistry textbook simply transformed my exam mathematics from 17% a few months before the licentiate exams to 100% in 1952.”
In 1953 Bill obtained the position of assistant lecturer in biochemistry with research towards his doctorate, obtaining in 1956 a thesis: Some aspects of cholesterol metabolism in the rodent.
In 1957, he became a researcher at Scottish Agricultural Industries (SAI), Leith, then in 1960, production manager in their animal feed factory (Nutrimol) in Glasgow. He was appointed Director of Production and Distribution for SAI at Heathhall, Dumfries, in 1963 and three years later transferred to the Head Office, Edinburgh, as Director of Distribution.
Once, when he got an urgent phone call from a senior colleague asking him to make sure the labs were cleaned and put away for a VIP visit, he pressed the senior on how much to clean – the lab tables were cluttered with equipment and half-done. He was just told to carry on, so he grabbed a floor brush and simply swept flasks, test tubes and other devices into bins.
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In 1969 he was made redundant in a company reorganization and was given the position of area manager for Oxfam. He said it was “essentially development work. Much of this work consisted of meeting income and expense budgets and establishing supporter groups, securing and managing Oxfam stores, and campaigning on youth and education. »
Former MSP Iain Gray said: “Oxfam was a great organization to work for, full of exceptional people, and Bill was certainly one of them. which was based on Bill’s work.
“I remember him telling me that when he was appointed he pulled out a map of Scotland and identified where he would build Oxfam’s presence, through volunteer groups and shops – and he did.
“It was typical of the methodical determination he brought to leadership. By the time he retired, his legacy was Oxfam Scotland as Scotland’s leading development charity at the time, in raising funds, campaigns and development education.
“Bill wasn’t tender, but he supported his staff and volunteers and gave them the space to develop their own ideas and careers – something that I certainly benefited from.”
Approximately every five years, overseas visits were made by Oxfam staff to keep in touch with local projects. Costs were kept to a minimum and, recounting his experiences working in India, East Africa and South America, Bill recounted how on one occasion he happened to be the only member of a group to have a torch with him – earlier packed “just in case” by his wife Shelagh – as the team crossed a river at night using a log as a makeshift bridge.
Still a keen sports fan, from 1955 to 1957 he played as a midfielder for Edinburgh University’s first XI and then for local club Spartans in the East of Scotland Amateur League. His early interest in tennis was encouraged by another Horne Terrace family whose mother played for the Uniroyal Rubber factory tennis team.
His family lived in Silverknowes for many years and Bill is survived by Shelagh, whom he married at St George’s West Church in 1960, children Philip, Tracey and Barry, and nine grandchildren.
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