Obituary: Major John Stephenson, 85

John Stephenson was passionate about horse racing. Picture: comp
John Stephenson was passionate about horse racing. Picture: comp
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A leading East Lothian politician, racehorse owner and top amateur golfer has died, aged 85.

Major John Stephenson was born on August 15, 1929, the eldest son of a family of nine children, and began a love affair with golf aged just five when he became a caddie in County Wicklow, Ireland.

He turned 15 and, concealing his true age, decided to join the Irish army.

He then enlisted in the British Army in 1948 and served in the Royal Army Service Corps until 1951 and then in the Royal Army Pay Corps until 1984.

Rising to the rank of Major in the Pay Corps, he served in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Gulf States and Germany.

John met his wife Christine in 1955 when he was stationed at Edinburgh Castle.

They had five children: Sean, Moira, James, Christopher and Claire, and eventually 11 grandchildren. John also had a passion for horse racing which began when he was in the Irish army stationed beside the Curragh, and this continued throughout his life.

In 1963 he was awarded a British Empire Medal by the Queen for his work on the installation of a research and development costing system for fighting vehicles.

The couple returned to the Lothians and in 1980 bought a pharmacy in Dunbar High Street after John returned from the army.

He moved into politics after being elected as a Conservative member of East Lothian District Council in 1984.

That side of his life saw him meet many influential political figures, including five prime ministers.

Only last year, he and Christine were invited to meet David Cameron at Downing Street.

In 1998, they decided to retire and moved to Berwick on Tweed where John continued his involvement in local affairs. He was appointed Sheriff of Berwick in 2004.

He was leader of what was then-Berwick Borough Council from 2005-2007 and was then elected to the Berwick Town Council in May 2013. He served on the finance committee and became deputy mayor in May this year.

John had a lifelong passion for golf, playing off a single-figure handicap, and spending time at courses such as Gullane and Dunbar. Incredibly, he shot a hole-in-one 18 times during his life. Recently, at a ripe old age of 82, he reached the final of the Ladies Cup at Gullane Golf Club from a field of 128 players.

John’s passion for horse-racing saw him achieve a long-standing ambition in 1980 when he purchased his own horse and named it Traprain Law after the hill on the outskirts of Haddington – also the name of his council seat. It won four races in Irish colours under famous Scottish trainer Ken Oliver.

John, who went on to own seven race horses, died on September 13 at Borders General Hospital.