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. —
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.
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
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
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
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
"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?