Obituary: Dr William Robertson CBE, 98

William Robertson
William Robertson
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Tributes have been paid to the former chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, who has died in the Capital at the age of 98.

Dr William Robertson CBE dedicated his life – even in retirement – to the industrial development of his beloved Scotland.

He held the role of chief executive at the SCDI between 1956 and 1979, during which time he worked to promote the country as a growing industrial power despite the decline of traditions such as coal mining and shipbuilding.

The son of a teacher, he was born William Shepherd Robertson, in Stirling, in July 1914. He attended Allan Glen’s school in Glasgow, following in the footsteps, half a century on, of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

He graduated from Glasgow University in 1936 and three years later married Elizabeth “Biddy” Ferguson from Invergordon.

His academic prowess earned him a scholarship to study electronics at the Technische Hochschule [Technical High School] in Dresden, Germany. There, he witnessed growing Nazism and returned to Scotland warning of the dangers.

After war broke out, William’s electronics expertise won him a commission in the Royal Air Force to research radar technology, before he served on the ground after the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Commanding a group of 50 men, he led a mission to uncover Nazi electronics systems.

That led to many lucrative job offers back in peacetime Britain, but he stuck to his guns and dedicated his career to Scotland’s industrial development.

He was working for Ferranti, the electrical engineering company, when he was appointed chief executive of the SCDI.

He settled in the early 1950s in Trinity, with a fine view over the Forth, and by the time he retired in 1979 had been appointed CBE by the Queen.

Further decorations included an honorary doctorate of sciences from Heriot-Watt University and a fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Away from work, he was a passionate supporter of Wardie Parish Church and became an elder, as well as writing its history.

The Rev Brian Hilsley, minister at Wardie, said at a thanksgiving service for Dr Robertson’s life last week: “Willie Robertson was a thinker and a man of vision.

“He was also highly practical in his approach, an engineer with energy and willpower to see things through. He was formidable in assembling persuasive arguments with the most influential of contacts.

“Willie Robertson knew everyone worth knowing, in Scotland, in Westminster, in Whitehall and beyond.”

Dr Robertson died three days after his 98th birthday and is survived by sons George and Fergus. His wife Biddy died in 2000.