Obituary: Ronnie Gray, 78

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An industrialist and hotelier has died at the age of 78.

Ronnie Gray was the founder and chief executive of Polbeth Packaging, one of the first start-up companies to base itself in Livingston and go on to become a UK-wide business.

He also co-founded Lowland Inns Ltd, which was most noted for creating the Edinburgh Canal Centre at the Bridge Inn, Ratho.

In later life, his interests included being a non-executive director of the Royal College of Surgeons and mentor to numerous small and medium-sized Scottish businesses through his work with Business Mentoring Scotland, for Scottish Enterprise.

Born in Glasgow in 1937, Mr Gray attended Edinburgh Academy. After a gap year as an interpreter in the Costa Brava, he trained with the Savoy Hotel Group in London.

After a decade of hotel management he switched track in the early 1960s to packaging, joining Willkie and Paul in Slateford. Mr Gray rose to be the managing director, having successfully diversified the metal box business into thermo-plastic packaging during the 1970s. Willkie and Paul closed in 1983, when parent company Scotcros famously failed.

Joined by two senior colleagues, in 1983 Mr Gray founded Polbeth Packaging Ltd with support from Livingston Council, which was then promoting Livingston as a trade and industry “new town”.

As a major thermoformed container firm, Polbeth Packaging became a significant employer.

In 1990, Polbeth was acquired by the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) in a deal that saw Mr Gray shuttling to and from the US on Concorde. Over the following years he oversaw PCA’s expansion in the UK and the beginning of a presence in Europe. Mr Gray retired from PCA in 1996. He was widely regarded as a thoughtful and forward-looking leader who inspired great loyalty.

Meanwhile, Mr Gray’s interest in the hospitality business saw him and two other investors create Lowland Inns Ltd in 1970. In 1971, Lowland Inns’ first acquisition was the Bridge Inn, then an old, rundown pub on the disused Union Canal in Ratho.

The building was converted into one of the first mid-market destination gastropubs in central Scotland.

Mr Gray and fellow investors then alighted on the idea of building a cruising barge-restaurant on the Union Canal, offering a unique waterfront and cruising dining experience for family parties and weddings. The Bridge Inn would be the hub.

In 1987 it was expanded and became the Edinburgh Canal Centre with a new restaurant called The Pop Inn and two new boats – The Pride of Belhaven and The Ratho Princess – were added to the fleet. Mr Gray relinquished his holding in the company in 1997.

In retirement spent mostly in Spain and Edinburgh, Mr Gray remained an active member of the business community. He died peacefully at home in Edinburgh on Saturday. He is survived by his wife, Wendy, and their son and daughter.