Obituary: John Ramsay, 69

John 'JR' Ramsay with some of his sculptures
John 'JR' Ramsay with some of his sculptures
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A blacksmith and sculptor in residence at Edinburgh Zoo has died at the age of 69.

John Ramsay – known affectionately as JR – was the outstanding sculptor in residence at Edinburgh Zoo, where he created numerous attractions as well as beautifully crafted sculptures. Ramsay’s work was also seen at locations throughout Scotland – notably Edinburgh Airport and a swivel-locking system to prevent the macaques escaping at the Highland Wildlife Centre at Kingussie.

Ramsay was born on September 14, 1946, on the Royal Mile – his mother grew up in the Canongate and his father in Haddington.

He attended St Anthony’s School, in Lochend, and was fascinated by metalwork from an early age.

He left school at 15 and was apprenticed to a farrier – Old Tam, a one-legged veteran from the First World War, who taught Ramsay the intricate skills of metalwork.

His first professional positions were to design and oversee the installations of the large stainless steel and glass-hanging staircase at Edinburgh Airport then the hanging stairs at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Dundas Street branch.

He became an inspired member of the team at Edinburgh’s famous zoo. He brought his love of art work and his ability to fashion metalwork to many aspects of the zoo.

Ramsay delighted in telling the story about when he was making a fence and added, as an afterthought, some metal leaves.

“There was a mistake and a hole appeared in a leaf. I said it had been eaten by caterpillars: that is now a feature – along with a spider’s web.”

His work and imaginative solutions to numerous problems are to be found all around the zoo.

“You have to be careful,” Ramsay once commented as he worked some metal with his blow-torch blazing. “Monkeys lift everything and the tiger cage took weeks to make and had to be very strong. I love the tortoise I made out of scrap metal – everyone, as they pass him, touches it.”

Ramsay was devoted to his work at the zoo and his family.

His widow, Josephine, recalled: “He loved making things. Wee things that became big things – he was so skilled and so patient when working. He loved all animals and we often walked our three dogs along the Water of Leith.”

JR, who only retired a few weeks ago after a diagnosis of cancer, is survived by Josephine and their two sons. He died in Edinburgh on August 24.

Chris West, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “During his time here JR created everything from intricately decorated wrought iron gates, to fencing surrounding our Physic Garden, enclosure locking systems and metalwork on animal enclosures.

“His legacy certainly lives on here at the zoo and his one-off sculptures of birds, animals and insects dotted distinctly around the site bring pleasure to visitors every day.”