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He was a one-off: Tributes to former journalist and councillor Bill Mowat

By Alan Hendry

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Bill Mowat (1943-2023). Picture: Callum Mackay
Bill Mowat (1943-2023). Picture: Callum Mackay

Tributes have been paid to former Highland journalist and councillor Bill Mowat following his death at the age of 80.

In his professional life Bill had "a nose for news" and in local government he worked hard to bring prosperity to the people of his native Caithness, his younger brother Walter said.

Bill represented north-east Caithness on Highland Regional Council for 16 years and worked as an Inverness-based reporter for the Daily Record.

"He was a one-off," Walter said. "He was a character and everybody locally knew him – they either liked him or disliked him.

"He had his opinions and he stuck to them. He never varied.

"He was always interested in anyone that was doing something positive for the area."

Bill was chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd and a member of Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council. He had hoped to go to a community council meeting on Monday evening but felt he wasn't fit to attend.

He passed away on Tuesday at his home in John O'Groats. Jimmy Gray, the former Highland Council convener and ex-provost of Inverness, originally from Thurso, had been able to pay a brief visit earlier in the day. "He spoke to Jimmy Gray for a few minutes," Walter said.

Born in Thurso on May 13, 1943, Bill was the son of a crofter-fisherman.

He began the family gift-shop business, First and Last, in 1957 as an enterprising 14-year-old.

Walter (71) recalled: "He had a stall and he used to make strings from Groatie Buckies and earrings and brooches, and sell postcards to tourists here out of a tin box. That's what all the young people did around here in order to make some money."

After leaving Wick High School, Bill became the first member of his family to go to university.

He joined the Caithness Courier, then based in Thurso, as editor. As well as writing prolifically about atomic power, reporting on council meetings and covering the full range of other local issues, he began a column under the pseudonym Tim Hunt to showcase the thriving 1960s Caithness music scene.

Bill managed local band Spiggy Topes whose members "all went on to greater things", according to his brother.

In 1968 Bill was head-hunted by the Daily Record. He stayed with the Record for many years, until the infamous Robert Maxwell era, then worked for an Inverness-based news agency. Walter pointed out that STV reporter Nicola McAlley had been one of Bill's "apprentices".

While he would stand for election as an independent, Bill was "completely and utterly Labour" in his values, according to Walter.

"He worked alongside John Green," Walter said. "At that time there was a district council and the regional council. Bill was on the regional council whereas John was on the district council, and they worked together for the benefit of the area.

"The two of them were both socialist or Labour and both worked hard for their constituents."

Bill had been back living in John O'Groats in recent years and Walter pointed out that his brother retained his keen appetite for local and national news.

"He kept abreast of the times," Walter said. "Even here in his latter days he would have the Orcadian, the Groat, the Press and Journal every day, the Inverness Courier, maybe the Ross-shire Journal or the Northern Times. He would have all these papers and he also looked online at news as well.

"He would suss out stories. He had a nose for news and even in the pub he would meet people.

"He used to write obituaries of people he thought were interesting and he would send them off to the Glasgow Herald, the Scotsman, the Guardian, all these different newspapers."

Caithness journalist Gordon Calder, who knew Bill for many years, said he was saddened by the news.

He said: "Bill was a real character, a much-respected and knowledgeable journalist who also served as a Highland regional and community councillor. He was passionate about Caithness and his home village of John O'Groats.

"Bill had his finger on the pulse when it came to news and he would often phone me with a story or tip-off, and I would often contact him for a comment in his capacity as a Dunnet and Canisbay community councillor or as an office-bearer with Gills Harbour Ltd.

"He had an encyclopaedic knowledge on so many things, covering a range of subjects from renewable energy to the nuclear industry and music. Bill will live on in countless stories and many memories."

Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date.

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