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Oliver Brown
Tributes to Oliver Brown - Obituaries from the Scots Independent, July 1976


from the Scots Independent ofJuly 1976

Oliver Brown suddenly died at home in Milngavie on Friday, May 28, at 73, when he should not have died. The news of his loss reached us the following day, the last day of the 1976 Annual Conference of the Scottish National Party in Motherwell. There was a personal grief in the hearts of hundreds there in the conference’s last hours.

This man Oliver was one of Scotland’s sea-green incorruptibles, a man who fought all his life for freedom and honesty of spirit, in the pacifist way, with words; who did not give one damn for the exponents or institutions of servitude or dishonesty; who made abiding friends of a host of fellow-followers of the light of life, and no doubt a fair number of enemies among the ranks of the tunnel-visioned closed-minds, whom he did not spare in his comments.

From all the people still with us who have marched and worked with Oliver for half a century we have asked two for their memorials to him Mary Fraser (Mrs Dott), whose own mother was a friend of Oliver’s mother; and the Rev. Alex S. Borrowman, retired minister of St Andrew’ Parish Kirk, Glasgow; where a memorial service was held on June 2; respectively national secretary and national executive member of the National Party in days gone by. And we give the tribute spoken by the SNP’s national chairman, Mr Billy Wolfe, at the Party’s National Council June meeting.

Mr Borrowman’s tribute is given as it was spoken by him at the memorial service on June 2. We have not changed it. But Oliver’s column in the June issue of the Independent was not in fact his last. He was an editor’s ally - prompt with his copy. And his copy for the July issue reached us eight days before he joined his fathers. We give it below with a glad sorrow, the last thing written by him for this paper; with the same small, quizzical picture of him as ever.

It was typical of Oliver Brown that he should donate his body, for which he had no further use, to medical research. And now the particular memory and sense and loss of him remain with the family he so cherished throughout his married life Margaret, his widow, especially, and Catrioria and Una, their daughters the family his pen so affectionately caricatured in the seasonal greetings he would send to his friends at the turn of the year. The family will know that a silent army of peaceful Scots and others grieve for them.

Oliver, with the others picked off these last years, should have lived to see his nation free. D.E.S.

Man To Honour

You couldn’t put Oliver Brown in a slot. You couldn’t label him. He was an individualist, unorthodox as a politician. And he was a man of many, many parts. He was a considerable scholar and linguist. He retained his contacts with the academic world, especially with the French Department at the University of Glasgow, which was maybe a natural thing, culturally and historically, for a man of reason.

He was a lifelong man of peace. Oliver Brown never "rose" in the National Party. He was too much of an individualist to rise in any party. But conversely he was wholly admired and respected for his integrity, by both his friends and unfriends. He was the first National Party candidate to save his deposit in a Parliamentary election. He amassed a private collection of Press cuttings and references that can have had few equals. And on the strength of that, among other things, he could produce facts and figures to confuse the less systematic; and he could and did produce a seemingly incessant stream of pamphlets over a generation.

He was a man to whom his country’s cause was a duty and a passion. For many years, alone, he ran a weekly Saturday-night open-air meeting at West Campbell Street, Glasgow. On an average, he used to speak at meetings four nights a week. I have known periods when, his wife Margaret in ill health, he would come home from his own professional job, prepare the evening meal, see Catriona and Una to bed, then go out to run his meetings. The professional job was the teaching of French, as Gerry Fisher and a host of other Glasgow pupils will remember.

The number of converts that Oliver Brown made in the national cause must be beyond computation. He had a beautiful speaking voice; an incomparable platform manner; a ready smile; a great sense of humour on and off the platform; and what they call charisma. He could carry an audience with him.

In tune with his Nationalism, Oliver Brown was a great internationalist, in a way that went far beyond his "French connection". He kept in touch and in exchange of ideas and information, with people in many countries. And in all his work for freedom, despite later ill health, he carried on until he was called, suddenly. He organised the Nationalists’ "Veterans’ Clanjamfry" which began last year, and he was present at Clanjamfry No. 2 a few days before his death. I had word from him just over a week before he died, and his letter read like a farewell. It’s a sorrow that Oliver, who knew himself well, was accurate even in his premonition about himself.

One of Oliver’s great desires was that there should be drawn up, and written in letters of gold, a Roll of Honour of those early Nationalists who had given their strength and their gifts to the freedom of Scotland. The desire wasn’t fulfilled while he lived. But if the roll is ever composed, his name will be high on it.

Mary Dott

"Dear Friend"

From the tribute spoken by Mr Billy Wolfe, SNP national chairman, at the Party's National Council meeting of June 12 in Stirling:

We shall not see his like again.

Those of us privileged to be in correspondence with him were invariably addressed "Dear Friend" — and what a stimulating friendship he gave!

He worked for the Independence Movement all his adult life —sometimes an irritant to some of his fellow-Nationalists; sometimes a catalyst.

Oliver made many contributions, but his most fundamental one was to make us think. He helped to make us care for Scotland, and to be careful in how we expressed our care.

VALIANT-FOR-TRUTH — by Rev. A.S. Borrowman

Oliver Brown was born 73 years ago in the town of Paisley. After graduation, with an excellent Honours degree in Latin and French, he took up work as a schoolmaster, and it is well to remember that this was indeed his Iifework in which he influenced many pupils, in particular at Whitehill and Pollockshiels, not least to a love of France and of the French language.

In truth, Oliver carried on a love affair with France and all things French until his dying day. He must be one of the few Scots who corrected and had accepted corrections not to the English edition but to the French Larousse encyclopaedia; corrections mainly about Scottish history, for he discovered many errors in the course of his many visits to France; and took pains to have such errors put right.

He acted as courier for the British Council, and his particular skills were used by the BBC, especially on radio.

Each year for the past 13 years Oliver promoted and partly financed the Jeanne d’Arc Dinner to commemorate the relief of Orleans by Jeanne and the Scots under Sir Hugh Kennedy. At this dinner he was in the habit of talking engagingly, and without malice, of the defeat of the English, not only at Orleans, but also at Beaugé, by a combined Franco-Scottish army.

It was this ability to speak the truth in love, and without malice, which endeared him to many of us.

We should remember too his skill as a writer, and his concern for the literature of his country; if memory serves me right, he brought out a selection of poems of Hugh MacDiarmid when neither Doctor Grieve nor his work was held in such high regard as they are today.

But in my opinion it is as a pamphleteer that Oliver excelled. Many of us remember with joy such works as Stepmother Britain, White Sepulchres, The Extended Tongue and that distillation of his beliefs and humour Witdom.

However, it is in his connection with the Scottish Independence Movement that Oliver is associated in the public eye. This connection extended over 50 years through the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party.

Like many of us, he was one of those who waited for the dawn, the coming of an independent socialist Scotland, and he proclaimed his belief at street corners, in halls and schools and what have you over the length and breadth of Scotland. He used to say that he had been thrown out of the best halls in Scotland.

He also wrote a monthly column for the Scots Independent, and it was a sad thing for me to read yesterday his last column in that journal. It is perhaps an earnest of the quality of the man that the last words of this last column are these: "To induce people to think is more valuable than to convert them to your own point of view."

We remember here today, with pride and affection, the public life, work and witness of our friend Oliver Brown; but it is also necessary for us to remember the gifts and graces of his personality; his integrity and honesty; his courage; his kindness and generosity; his friendliness; his saving sense of humour. I would describe him as Mr Valiant-for-truth, and apply to him John Bunyan’s words about his Valiant-for-truth.

"My courage and skill I give to him who can get them, my marks and scars I carry with me to be my witness that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder. So he passed over and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

Do you doubt that, "from the hid battlements of eternity", the trumpets sounded for Oliver as well?