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John Gray

Also known as: Himself.


Picture of John Gray.

John was born on 6th June 1930. He never got to know his family or his heritage as he was taken away from his home and mother at the age of five, and into the care of Nazareth House in Aberdeen, where his treatment by the nuns was less than kind. But even with so many unanswered questions about what had happened and why, he didn’t let it get him down, even although it was a source of sadness. He nurtured such good relationships with so many people that he created his own “family” and his own network of people that he loved and trusted, and who in turn held him in great respect and affection. The late John Nairn, his wife Netta, and their children Hazel, Linda, Janet and David were very much like family to him. John Nairn befriended him as a young man and they remained very close. He also had fantastic, caring neighbours: Alison Calum, Jody, Alison and Bettina and was also very close to Goodwilly family, the Law family, the MacKay family and the Sanderson family.
Though his early childhood was difficult, and he was turfed out and left to fend for himself at the age of just fourteen, against the odds he made a success of himself. Aided by his good friend the late John Nairn; but also thanks to his own positive mental attitude; his ability to look on the bright side; his strong work ethic; and his gift of being able to laugh all stood him in good stead.
His first job was as an apprentice baker in Aberdeen, he then moved down to Edinburgh where he was called-up for national service. On his return from National Service he went to work on the fishing boats in Peterhead and Arbroath. A job at the Seaforth Hotel in Arbroath as a Bar man followed, and it was here that he met the love of his life – Agnes Kelman.
They got married on the 3rd September 1956 in the Hopemount Church, in Arbroath, and Netta remembers enjoying a lovely meal with family and friends in the Seaforth Hotel
For the best part of their careers they worked for Scottish Brewers, running the Grovenor Bar in Edinburgh, The Clachan, and The Quill on the Bridges. For a time he and Agnes provided holiday cover for other pubs, and finally they ran the company shop, selling supplies to other pubs. Netta said that what he had really wanted to do was work in the Navy, and his dream job was to be the Captain of a liner.
One thing’s for sure, he knew how to enjoy himself, and he was never idle. He loved reading, especially factual books, biographies, poetry and history. He was very fond of the arts, and loved going to museums and galleries. He enjoyed listening to music, especially river dance, and Al Jolson, and he was stunned when Janet found and played the Al Jolson track “Mammy” on her mobile phone – the wonders of technology.
He loved going on holiday with Agnes, and both Germany, and Galway, in Ireland were favourite destinations. He had suggested owning a wee cottage on Ireland, but Agnes never fancied it. He had also talked about getting a horse drawn Romany caravan and touring around Ireland in it – but Agnes said she’d only agree to it, if she got stay in B&Bs.
His friends have described him as a great judge of character, who could diffuse a difficult situation - which came in handy when dealing with revelers in the pub. He could also be very opinionated, outspoken and forthright, and sometimes the words that came out could sound quite racist or un-PC, but he was actually a very tolerant person.
He was also very generous, although he himself lived quite frugally, and walked everywhere. Just in September last year, Janet and Grant recall going for a walk around the Botanic Gardens with him, and he refused to go into Palm House because they were charging an entrance fee to get in, and he wasn’t having that!
Self-discipline was another of his attributes, as he demonstrated on the day he just decided to stop smoking, having been a very heavy smoker, and that was that.
Irene remembers
He was always well presented, a very dapper man who would wear cufflinks and he had a touch of glamour about him.John and Agnes were a unique couple. Unique in many ways. They are the only people I met in my entire life who didn’t have a fridge! And you know, in some ways that was a good thing. Not having a fridge meant they had to go out and shop every day. And that meant they built fantastic relationships with their neighbours and local businesses.

When we think of John it makes us happy
Because there was no chirpier chappy
He made us all laugh with his funny tales
Of dafty women and silly males
What drove him mad were the Edinburgh trams
They made him imbibe in endless drams
Today let’s be glad we all knew John Gray
Who made us smile every single day
John will be sorely missed by us all but he will live in our hearts forever.


Alison remembers
When I went to view my flat at 9/1 West Maitland Street in 1999, the first thing that struck me was that the stair was immaculate. That was John. Even in the last few months of his life, John was concerned about who was going to do the stair in his absence. He took such pride in it, as he did with everything in his life.
I remember meeting John and Agnes for the first time. A tall, elegant and handsome couple. Agnes, with her hair up, make-up, beautifully dressed. John, equally – as if he knew he had to, and wanted, to make her proud. And not hear the sharp edge of Agnes’ tongue, as he once did, when he wore jeans!
John and Agnes were fantastic neighbours. When I came home from travelling in 2004, there was a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon at the front door. And then a ‘Good luck in your new job’ card, with a list of instructions from John:
1. Have the day off on your Birthday.
2. Get the boss to buy you a drink.

He made me smile. There was a seemingly endless ream of notes through the door over the years, signed by ‘Himself’, in John’s inimitable hand-writing. In return, I sent John and Agnes postcards from my travels, which John carefully pasted up, along with birthday cards from Agnes, on the kitchen wall, to decorate it.
When I went to New Zealand to live in 2006, John, Agnes and I spent a happy, farewell afternoon in my parlour, with the Chardonnay flowing, and all emerged with red and happy faces, full of laughter, at teatime. Happy memories. Thankfully I knew John & Agnes well, by the time I

had to advise John, that I had a boyfriend who was English! After an initial growl and wiley assessment, John was welcoming.


Gruff, charming, twinkle in his eye, what a sense of humour, and so kind. And the dignity and strength with which John faced his illness, moves me to a respect beyond words.
John Gray may be no more on this earth, but he will remain with me forever, as I’m sure he will with you. And I will miss him terribly. However, I have a vision that John is flying around up there, drinking Jaimieson’s with the menfolk, and entertaining and taking care of the ladies, walking next to Agnes, on the outside of the pavement. A gentleman and a friend.

Taken from the ceremony of remembrance and celebration 15th March 2013

Added by: Janet Grant on 4 November 2013.



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