Obituary: John Stewart, 78

John Stewart is presented with his award by Mark Lazarowicz
John Stewart is presented with his award by Mark Lazarowicz
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A “PILLAR” of the Leith community and a curator of the area’s history has died at the age of 78 after a short battle with illness.

John Stewart, who was born on July 10, 1934 at his maternal grandmother’s house at Cables Wynd, in Leith, died surrounded by his family at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, on January 9, following a brief fight against respiratory disease.

John attended Dr Bell’s School in Great Junction Street and was named Dux of the year when he left in 1946.

Though this achievement opened doors for him at several independent high schools in Edinburgh, he was unable to secure the required bursary funding and went to Leith Academy.

He left school in 1949 and got a job as a junior clerk at an investment company, before he was left devastated after failing a medical exam for the navy due to a treatable tubercular gland in his neck.

Not to be deterred from his dream of taking to the high seas, he began a plumbing apprenticeship in 1951 at Henry Robb’s shipbuilders at Leith Docks, hoping to use the experience he would gain to earn a second chance to join the navy.

A trip to a travel agent to book a holiday to Ireland turned into a bigger adventure in 1955 when John signed up to emigrate to Canada after being told a job came as part of the deal.

His move was nearly scuppered though after he was called up for national service with the army, but medics again denied him the chance to serve his country.

Entry standards for the army were lower than those for the navy, and it was only after some debate between three doctors that John was declared free to begin his new life.

Although he enjoyed his spell in Canada, he struggled to fight off homesickness and returned to his beloved Leith after just six months.

He married Olive Jamieson in 1957 and the couple had three children, the family setting up home in Livingston, where they stayed until her death in 1998.

With time on his hands, John put his mind to setting up the Old Leither website, where he shared his own memories of growing up in the area while encouraging others to contribute.

Now, it is filled with tales from Leith natives young and old, and it is hoped someone will come forward to take over the website in the wake of John’s death.

John was named as one of the “Pillars of Leith” in 2009 in recognition of his contribution to the area, alongside more famous names such as writer Irvine Welsh, Kwik Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.

He is survived by his 105-year-old mother, Mary Stewart, children Karen, Pamela and Alan, plus five grandchildren – Fiona, Aileen, Caroline, Ava and Alison.

Another grandson, Keith, sadly died aged just five days old.