Tom Gilzean funeral: Hundreds line streets of Edinburgh to pay tribute to inspirational war veteran and fundraiser
Hundreds of mourners lined the streets of Edinburgh to pay tribute to one of the city’s most loved and inspirational figures, Tom Gilzean.
The funeral of the legendary fundraiser, who died on Monday 4 November, was attended by hundreds of members of the public along with city dignitaries and military representatives.
At his funeral service at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral on York Place, Mr Gilzean was described as an “ornament of Edinburgh” by Archbishop Leo Cushley.
The former Royal Engineer, who was awarded the Legion D’Honneur for his wartime bomb disposal in France, was buried in Mount Vernon cemetery in a tartan coffin following a funeral procession around the centre of Edinburgh.
The route included a stop outside the Princes Street Marks and Spencer, one of Mr Gilzean’s favourite charity collecting spots over the years, where mourners were given the chance to pay their respects.
When the procession arrived, Mr Gilzean was met with applause by the hundreds of people who had gathered to pay their respects.
Roses were also thrown on to the hearse, inside of which sat Mr Gilzean’s coffin decorated with flowers spelling ‘Dad’.
Delivering his father’s eulogy at St Mary’s prior to the procession, Mr Gilzean’s son Douglas Gilzean said his father had “so many friends on the streets of Edinburgh”.
He added: “To our family he was just a loving dad, so passionate about collecting for charities. We’re overwhelmed as a family. He used to say he was made of titanium.
“We used to tell him not to go out in the rain but he did and said it wasn’t raining when I went out. He loved the support he got from the Evening News, he’d say it ‘gets me more money’.”
Thanking the police for the escort around the city, Douglas joked that it “maybe just to make sure he doesn’t stop to start collecting”.
During the service Father Jamie McMorrin described Mr Gilzean as being “animated by love”.
He said: “Tom’s life had profound meaning. Tom had a reason to get up in the morning. He had a reason to risk his life in the service of his country, a reason to put on his uniform and a reason to carry on, even when he was tired, and cold and sore.
“That meaning can be summed up in one word: love. Tom’s was a life that was animated by love. But a particular kind of love: not the ‘warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside’ love of greeting cards and romantic comedies.
“Tom’s, rather, was a love that was expressed in the reality of everyday life. A love that isn’t selfish, but which finds its fulfilment in seeking the good of others.
“A love which isn’t dependent on feeling and which doesn’t give up when things get difficult.”
Also speaking during the funeral service, Archbishop Leo Cushley called Mr Gilzean an “extraordinary man” and an “ornament of Edinburgh”.
He said: “We all need hope in the world, otherwise there is not much point, and this is something we saw in Tom’s life.”
Mr Gilzean’s funeral included a piper from the Royal British Legion at both the beginning of the service at the cathedral and at the gravesite, with the Royal Engineer Sappers acting as pallbearers.
Two hymns, the Old Rugged Cross and The Lord is my Shepherd, were sung during the service.
Mr Gilzean was also honoured by a bugler playing The Last Post as he was buried at Mount Vernon cemetery.
Lord Provost Frank Ross, who attended the funeral on behalf of Edinburgh City Council, praised Tom’s legacy for fundraisers across the city and said his only regret was never getting to present Tom’s MBE to him before he fell ill. He said: “He was a unique individual and a great inspiration in retrospect because at the time you’re thinking there’s Tom again, it’s going to cost me another fiver,” joked Cllr Ross.
He added: “They say grief brings people together and it’s certainly united our whole city. It was really touching to witness so many organisations volunteer their services and make donations, like Tom’s fitting tartan coffin, and to see residents pause along Princes Street where Tom famously shook his tin.”
Cllr Ross added that the council are looking at potential ways to honour Mr Gilzean in a more permanent way, including naming a street name after him or potentially naming a part of the new Sick Kids hospital after the fundraiser.
A collection for Mr Gilzean’s charities took place following the service.
Edinburgh Garrison Commander Lt Col Hugo Clark said Tom, who was awarded the Legion D’Honneur for his wartime bomb disposal work in France was a “war veteran first and foremost.”
He added: “He’d been there and done that in respect of his war record. But he was a thoroughly decent person.
“He was tenacious and never gave up, fundraising into his late 90s. He was so determined to make a difference to people’s lives.”
Former owner of Hibernian football club, Sir Tom Farmer, said he met Tom shaking his can like everybody else.
He said: “I think he was a tremendous example to everybody young and old of what you can achieve by giving up the most precious thing we have - our time for other people.”
Deirdre Brock, SNP general election candidate and former MP, said: “I wanted to come here and pay my respects. He really was a great guy and I’m just sad to realise I won’t see him again.”
Marks and Spencer store manager Jenny McPartlin said the store’s staff wanted to pay their respects by lining the cortege route with roses.
The shop had taken care of Tom during his many hours of collecting.
He said: “He was really dear to all of our hearts. He was full of personality and life and we’re sad to see him go. We really miss him.”
Edinburgh residents also paid tribute on social media.
Aileen Pugh said: “I hope he knows just how much he was loved, a beautiful send off for Edinburgh’s hero Tom.”
Dorothy Lumsden said: “If only he could see the crowds out for him and the great show of respect.”
Tricia Forbes added: “His family must have been so proud of him when they saw the number of people who had turned out to say farewell to this wonderful, kind man.
“There is a lesson there for us all. Kindness goes a long way.”
Margaret Quinn added: “We were proud to be there to see him off. Very emotional.”
Magi Mackay said: “A beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. God bless and may you rest in peace.
“Heaven has gained another angel.”