James Robert Neilson has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours List, for voluntary services to the elderly and people with disabilities through his work with the Seagull Trust Cruises.
Bob Neilson was the voluntary maintenance engineer for the Ratho branch of Seagull Trust Cruises, which offers free barge trips to people with special needs, for 35 years until he died on December 4, aged 70.
A week before his death he was presented with the British Empire Medal by Lord Provost Donald Wilson on behalf of the Queen. Normally the award would have been kept under wraps until the New Year’s Honours List is published on December 31, but it was brought forward because of Mr Neilson’s terminal illness.
Mr Neilson lived around Ratho all his life. His early jobs involved maintaining agricultural machinery and he later worked as a driver.
His three-and-a-half decades with the Seagull Trust was spent mostly working behind the scenes and he was rarely seen by passengers. But he was the man who ensured the barges were refuelled, water tanks filled and waste emptied.
He showed dedication to carry out the maintenance essential to ensure that the Ratho barges operated on a daily basis. Before retirement, this was fitted in to his Sundays. After he retired from his job as a delivery van driver he qualified as a Seagull Trust Cruises skipper and regularly led crews, all on a voluntary basis.
Seagull Trust Cruises started in Ratho in 1978 with one barge and has expanded to four branches with nine barges, three of which are based at Ratho. More than 12,000 passengers were carried from Ratho alone in the 2013 season.
Mr Neilson was key to the whole operation of Seagull Trust Cruises in Ratho. Without his exemplary input the free barge cruises just could not have developed.
On becoming terminally ill a year ago, rather than take things easy he intensified his voluntary work and was to be seen constantly working with the barges until just a few weeks before his death.
Latterly he worked as a driver and after he retired he did part-time bus driving to take disabled children to school. He developed a fond attachment to his passengers and often became emotional when he met the same children enjoying barge trips.
His hobby was breeding albino budgerigars. He was a member of the Edinburgh Budgerigar Society and was on the General Council of the Scottish Budgerigar Society until early 2013.
Mr Neilson died peacefully at home with his family. He is survived by his wife, Lily, children Caroline, Scott, Louise and Suzanne, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.