Edinburgh banker bequeaths £12m fortune to arts and music

AN art-loving former banker has left the bulk of his £12 million fortune to charity in his will.

By David Meikle
Saturday, 21st December 2019, 2:03 pm
William Watson Cockburn Syson
William Watson Cockburn Syson

William Syson was a senior figure at the Bank of Scotland where he spent more than four decades working after joining the company from school at aged 16.

After retiring from the bank he made successful investments and served on the board of a number of companies.

Outside of work, his great loves were the arts and the Boys’ Brigade – which he joined as a youth and later became a captain in.

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Mr Syson, of Edinburgh, passed away in May this year aged 88 following a period of ill health.

His recently published will has revealed he had an estate worth £12,834,037 at the time of his death in May this year.

His wealth included properties in Edinburgh and a vast stocks and shares portfolio.

After leaving gifts of around £330,000 to family members and former colleagues, he instructed that the remainder of his estate should be given to the William Syson Charitable Foundation.

His extraordinary act of generosity will see grants made to organisations in Scotland dedicated to the arts and music.

Mr Syson, who was unmarried and had no children, set up the foundation in 2012 and it has already made a number of donations to good causes.

Its objectives have been described as “the advancement of the arts, heritage and culture, including promoting, developing and ensuring the practice and enjoyment of the arts, including music, the visual arts, theatre and literature”.

It also committed to the “prevention or relief of poverty” 
and “the advancement of education, including advancing the appreciation and knowledge of art by the preservation of 
paintings and ensuring 
that these are displayed or exhibited for the education and enjoyment of members of the public”.

Mr Syson became a supporter of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and a significant donor to the National Galleries of Scotland.

This included the loan of paintings from his art collection to a number of exhibitions held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Mr Syson attended Broughton High School and joined Bank of Scotland in 1947.

He remained there until 
his retirement in 1990, interrupted only by a period of National Service between 1949 and 1951.

In 1969 he was appointed manager of Bank of Scotland’s George Street branch, which served businesses and individuals in the New Town.

In 1981 he was appointed chief manager at The Mound, the bank’s iconic Edinburgh head office.

He oversaw the creation of a new division for corporate lending at the bank, which grew from £8 million to £350m during the 1980s.

Mr Syson was member of the Boys’ Brigade and on the staff of the 9th Edinburgh company based at The Tron church in Moredun.

He was appointed captain of the company in 1957 and remained so until his retirement in 1985.