Obituary: John Leckie MBE, former managing director of Crieff Hydro

07 September 2012 by
Obituary: John Leckie MBE, former managing director of Crieff Hydro

Stephen Leckie, son of John Leckie MBE, the former managing director of Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, on the life of his father, who has died aged 76:

John Leckie was born in Edinburgh on 30 July 1936. His father, Gordon Leckie, was an agriculturalist and colonial servant in Africa, awarded an OBE for those services. His mother Marjorie, born a Logan, was home in Scotland on an early form of maternity leave.

Before John was one, he and his mother rejoined Gordon in Kenya. Various other postings followed. John remembered very fondly the years he spent in Basutoland, now Lesotho. His first school was Michaelhouse in what is now South Africa.

Then, in 1948, his father accepted the challenge of re-opening Crieff Hydro - or the Strathearn Hydropathic Establishment Company Limited as it was then so elegantly known - after it had been used for training soldiers in the war, and the family returned to Scotland.

John went first to Morrison's Academy in Crieff; and then, when he was 13, to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, of which his uncle Ross Logan was a distinguished alumnus and devoted governor, and to which his brother Joe and several cousins had already been. It was at Merchiston that John nurtured his talent and enthusiasm for, among other things, playing the bagpipes and Scottish country dancing. Both were to remain great pleasures in his life.

After Merchiston came National Service and another theme in John's life: water. John joined the navy. He had previously spent time on Loch Earn aboard his uncle's Flying Fifteen. In this way did the navy find itself a midshipman familiar with water. John spent two years on a mine-detecting ship, where he learnt to dive.

Then came the calling of his father - and that of many Leckies - both to agriculture and to Christianity. John went to agricultural college in Edinburgh, and to worship at the Holyrood Abbey Church; then to the college at Lawers House near Comrie, and on to milking cows at 4am and 3pm at the Hydro's Culcrieff Farm.

When John was 23, his father developed terminal cancer. Encouraged by his mother and by his aunt Barbara Leckie, and with his elder brother already committed to the Church, John suddenly had a big job to fill. A small part of that had rather large consequences. Advertising, eight months into his new job, for a new dining-room supervisor, John found himself interviewing 19-year-old Janet Kincaid. Despite being second choice (of two) for the position, Janet was absolutely first choice and first class in a rather more important matter.

John and Janet were married by John's brother Joe on 19 March 1963. Westerleigh was built for them and has been the family home ever since. Theirs was a fruitful union in every way. Ruth was born on Hogmanay 1963, Stephen in 1965 and Joffie in 1966: three children in less than three years. Yes, John and Janet were always people who got things done - as Janet still does. James followed in 1973.

But before then, something remarkable had begun: John's - and Janet's - tenure at the Hydro. John ran the place for an unbroken and very successful 42 years, helped for much of that by Janet. His achievements and innovations, though with characteristic modesty he would not have called them that, were considerable; and many required substantial negotiation with the planners and the Hydro's board of directors.

Highlights of John's labour of love included building the first of the self-catering chalets - a far from popular idea at the time, yet now a huge and successful part of the business. He also built squash courts, the second swimming pool, the sports hall, the bowling green and a new wing of 42 bedrooms - the only development of his ever to need the help of a bank.

These and other improvements continued the Hydro's ethos and are still enjoyed by nearby residents and guests. John staunchly supported re-investing the Hydro's profits back into the business and he was an early advocate of encouraging people to stay fit. John's ability gave many people jobs, and even more people very happy holidays.

John's stewardship of the Hydro was universal. He knew each of the then 175-odd staff by name and knew exactly what they should be doing, why and when. John's was "management by walking about". And yet this was a man who had no training in management or hotels, let alone one as special and idiosyncratic as the Hydro.

His management style, continued by his son Stephen, who now runs the Hydro, was way ahead of its time. He led by example, not command. Over the years he and Janet put their hands to just about every one of the Hydro's many tasks. John always encouraged people to learn, to develop and to excel. If this is less rare now, it was exceptional then.

John Leckie was, and remained, a very special autodidact. When he wasn't teaching others, he taught himself things: squash, windsurfing and water-skiing, for example, all sports at which he came to excel. In seeing the potential of each, as he was with what he did at the Hydro, John was ahead of his time.

He taught himself to be an increasingly good and ambitious sailor, especially on Scotland's west coast. John's love of sailing and increasing skill at it are apparent in the delightful memoir, Nautical Nostalgia, that he wrote in 2002. John's boats always gave a warm welcome to landlubbers and experienced crew alike.

He was always a model host and an outstanding conversationalist, keen to talk about everything and nothing. The only thing he was less keen to talk about - this most self-effacing, good and gentle man - was himself.

John's commitment to his community was manifest in his support for the Strathearn Pipe Band, for example, and the Crieff Highland Games, for which he served as a director for more than 15 years.

As chair of the Crieff Tourist Committee, he founded the Knock Race in 1977, the Queen's Silver Jubilee year. For his services to tourism, he was awarded the MBE by the Queen in 1997. Consort Hotels benefited from his experience and wisdom, and he chaired its national board for two years. With Curly Mills and Lloyd Griffiths, John started the Scottish Islands Three Peaks Race.

But, above all, John Leckie taught himself Christianity. He preferred private to public prayer, but he was an elder at St Michael's Church in Crieff for 40 years, session clerk for almost 20 years and Sunday school superintendent for 25 years.

He became a diligent member of the Gideons, distributing Bibles in and around Perth. John's faith informed him, but it was lightly worn. Although he contracted Parkinson's disease in 1989, he never doubted, was never self-pitying and never complained. He bore his long illness with his head held high and his faith in his Saviour and Redeemer undiminished.

John has died, but in these and other ways, he lives on.

A service of thanksgiving for his life and work will take place at 12:00 on Monday 10 September, at Crieff Parish Church, Strathearn Terrace, Crieff. All are welcome.

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