Appreciation: Robert “Robbie” Stewart Aitken

Businessman and North Berwick stalwart. Picture: Contributed
Businessman and North Berwick stalwart. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 1931. Died: 5 February 2016 in North Berwick

A chapter closed in the history of North Berwick with the passing of Robbie Aitken on 5 February. Throughout his life, Robbie was a pillar of the local community and a familiar face on North Berwick’s High Street as owner of the family business, Aitkens of North Berwick.

Robbie’s grandfather was called Aitken and his grandmother, Niven. Together they set up the Edinburgh outfitters Aitken & Niven, then on Queensferry Road. Robbie’s early years were spent in Edinburgh, first at school in Trinity and then at George Watson’s College. He loved all sports and played rugby for the school. He was a member of the school cadet force and was made Head Boy in 1948. His National Service was spent in the RAF and he was disappointed not to realise his ambition to fly because of an injury to his eye from a rugby boot.

Robbie was a keen Scout and leader of the Charlotte Chapel Scouts. He was one of those who helped to restore the Canty Bay Inn, which was gifted to Charlotte Chapel Scouts by a botanist and keen Scout known fondly as Pa Evans. Robbie helped tirelessly with the renovations to transform the inn and the fishermen’s cottages into sleeping accommodation for the Cubs and Scouts.

Robbie went on to gain a B.Comm from Edinburgh University. After experience at Kinloch Anderson, he joined McEwan’s of Perth for four years, moving back to North Berwick in 1960 to help his father with his new outfitting and tailoring business. Robbie redesigned the shop front from the 18th Century cottage frontage to a walk-through arcade, quite an innovation at that time.

By then, Robbie had met Leila, who came from Somerset, and they married in 1956. Leila and Robbie had three children, Jennifer, Susan and Bobby. Robbie was devoted to his wife and family and was always there for his children. He built three houses for his family over the years in North Berwick and his loving nature and Christian faith helped the family through the tragic loss of their son in a car accident on his way back to Aberdeen University. Leila and Robbie would have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this summer.

Robbie was a member of the North Berwick Rotary Club, chairman of the Traders’ Association and, in a period of great recession when there were 14 empty shops in North Berwick, he battled with East Lothian Council to lower the shop rates in the town. He was a dedicated Elder in Blackadder Church, North Berwick for 12 years and Session Clerk for seven years.

Robbie was an enthusiastic golfer and was one of the first members of the North Berwick West Golf Club. After years of perseverance – and at the age of 70 – he achieved his first hole-in-one, only for this to be followed by two further holes-in-one later in the same year.

It was on the golf course that Robbie suffered a severe stroke in 2011. For four years, Leila and the family cared for him at home. The last 16 days of his life were in the caring environment of Fidra Nursing Home, North Berwick.

To meet Robbie was to warm to him – and to know him was to love him. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.