In February 1989 Walter Caldwell, with the enthusiastic support of Jim Scobbie, and the encouragement of Kelvin Rotary Club, took the first steps to establish a Probus Club in the West End of Glasgow. The two originators contacted many of their friends, and advertised in a local paper the date for an exploratory meeting. This meeting took place in Jury’s Pond Hotel on 7 April 1989 and was attended by 26 retired men, plus representatives of the Allander Probus Club, Bearsden. A steering committee was appointed with Jim Scobbie as chairman and Walter Caldwell as secretary. Duncan Carmichael, Bernard Caulfield and Bill Cameron volunteered to serve on the committee, and George Buchanan and Bill Gemmill were subsequently co-opted.
It was agreed that the name would be KELVIN PROBUS CLUB, and the inaugural meeting was held on 5 May 1989 in Esquire House, Anniesland, attended by 52 who became founder members. The draft constitution was duly approved and the annual subscription was fixed at the very modest sum of £5.
The first regular Club meeting took place, again in Esquire House, sixteen days later on Tuesday 16 May 1989, and the very first speaker was Tony Browning, Director of Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, who later became a member of the Club. There was a further meeting on 30 May, with Dr George Johnston speaking about the Commonwealth Games and other sporting events. Thereafter the Club closed down for the summer, with the members already keenly looking forward to September and the start of the first full session.
The Early Years
On 12 September 1989 Club members assembled at what was to become its permanent home for the first twenty years – the pavilion of the Hillhead High School Memorial Sports Grounds at Hughenden. The pattern of fortnightly meetings, and occasional outings arranged to places of interest, established in that very first annual session in 1989-90, has continued ever since, with morning meetings being held regularly on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from September to April inclusive, with the final meeting being the AGM (two informal May meetings were added much later when as far as possible the speakers are Club members).
All meetings start at 10.00 a.m. with coffee, home-made scones and socialising as members arrive and greet friends. The more formal proceedings begin at 10.30am, with Club reports, details of future outings, and information about members who are ill at home or in hospital. The guest speaker is then introduced by the President and usually speaks for around 45 minutes, followed by questions from the floor. Meetings end at 12 noon with a vote of thanks, and a soup and sandwich lunch is also available at modest cost to allow further time for social contact.
In Glasgow’s west end there is no shortage of retired professional or business men, and from the outset Kelvin Probus Club has been popular and well-supported. Within a few months the number who had attended the original exploratory meeting had doubled, from 26 to over 50. The first constitution provided for a maximum membership of 80. Within a few years, this limit was increased to 90, and then to 100 in 2002. By 2004 there was a lengthy waiting list, and the Club AGM approved the introduction of a new class of Associate Member. This catered for members who for a variety of reasons were no longer able to attend Club meetings but who nevertheless wished to retain contact with the Club. Associate members continue to receive information about Club activities and can attend outings and social events if possible. Currently (April 2016), the membership stands at 91, and there are 10 Associate Members.
Since its inception Kelvin Probus Club has been fortunate in the exceptionally high calibre of all its 27 Presidents. Drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds, professions and business, every year brings an incumbent with a different past experience and a fresh approach to his presidential duties.
In his year as Vice-President, each President-in-waiting is responsible for arranging his own syllabus of speakers during his year in office, and this results in a very wide range of topics and differing styles of presentation at our fortnightly meetings. This is to the great benefit and entertainment of the members, although not perhaps to the blood pressure of the President worrying if a particular talk will be a success or if a speaker booked over a year earlier will actually turn up. Last minute substitutions are not unknown, but it is an undoubted strength of the Club that it is able to call upon its own members in such emergencies.
The retiring President remains on the committee for one year as Welfare Officer, whose responsibility it is to keep in touch with members who are ill or in hospital. He also sends birthday cards to members achieving the landmark ages of 65, 70, 75, 80 and every year thereafter. Over the years several Past Presidents have also remained on, or returned to the Committee to undertake other functions, including Bill McMurray (Social Convener), Lawrie Taylor (Treasurer), Stewart Roy (Secretary), while Bill Gemmill and Ewan Murray have served for many years as Auditor of the annual accounts. The Club owes a special debt of gratitude to these members who have “gone the extra mile”.
Office-bearers and Committees
The posts of Secretary and Treasurer are essential cogs in the continuity and smooth-running of any organisation, and Kelvin Probus Club has been well-served by its successive occupants of these positions. The first Secretary during the early years was Bill Cameron, and his successor Bob Paton served loyally for twelve years until his sudden death in March 2004 on his way home from a Club meeting. He was followed by Iain Mann, who took over at short notice just before the AGM, in 2008 by Bob Stewart and in 2013 by Stewart Roy.
The first Treasurer, Bill Gemmill, set up the financial accounts system and carried out the duties diligently for eight years until stepping down to become Vice-President. He was succeeded first by Andy Connell, then by Lawrie Taylor, and currently by Ken Fyfe, all of them undertaking the thankless task of sitting at the desk before every Club meeting while members thrust cash and cheques at them for a variety of purposes.
Just as important as the office-bearers are the many members who have served on the Club committee over the years, undertaking the more humble chores of putting out chairs and tables before meetings, looking after the sound and projection equipment, taking charge of the arrangements for visits and outings, and offering their experience and wise counsel at committee meetings.
The Club had no access to start-up finance, and has relied entirely on annual subscriptions to cover routine administration costs such as printing, stationery and postages. The first subscription was set at £5, and over the years this has been increased progressively to its present level of £25. Members consider this a very good bargain for a year of convivial company, excellent talks, interesting visits and enjoyable social events. Visits and outings are carefully budgeted and members signing up for these are asked to provide their per capita share of the cost in advance.
Over the years sundry items of sound and video equipment have been donated by members or purchased out of Club funds, but by 2007 it was clear that these needed to be replaced with more modern high tech equipment. A lottery grant was applied for, and the Club was awarded £1,750 as a 75% contribution towards the costs of a laptop computer, power-point software, a new projector, table and screen, and a secure steel cabinet to keep these items under lock and key. More recently, this equipment has been further upgraded and improved and a sound amplification system with microphones for the president and the speaker has since been added.
Since the Club was founded, the members of Kelvin Probus Club have had their knowledge extended on a wide diversity of topics, with talks by almost 400 speakers from all walks of life. From the start it has been the established custom that the following year’s President is responsible for finding all the speakers for his year in office. This is always a daunting task, but each President has different interests and different business and social contacts, and has enjoyed great support from members of the Club committee, as well as from the wider membership generally. The result has been an unfailingly high quality of speakers across a huge range of subjects.
While Kelvin Probus is an all-male club, the invited speakers have often been women, increasingly so in recent years. It is not surprising therefore that the Committee has agreed that members may invite female guests. A talk on the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse was of particular interest to the wives of two members as both of them came from lighthouse families and some of their ancestors had been involved in the operation of the Bell Rock and other lighthouses around the coasts of Scotland.
Christmas Lunches and other Social Events
The tradition of a Christmas Lunch was introduced in the first session of the Club. This has become one of the highlights of the Club’s annual calendar, and is always attended by a great many members and their guests. A tradition established at this time was for the President to invite a local minister or priest to the Christmas Lunch as a guest speaker, to give a short Christmas message. Without exception these short homilies have been both entertaining and thought-provoking. The minister at the very first lunch in 1989 was the Rev Bill Ferguson of Broomhill Parish Church, who was again the Club guest in 2015.
At the first Christmas Lunch on 19 December 1989 the President of Kelvin Rotary Club presented the Club with a very handsome “President’s Chain of Office”, which has been worn by every President at all Club meetings since.
An anniversary lunch took place in May 2014 to celebrate the Club’s Silver Jubilee, complete with an appropriate birthday cake. The continuing good health of the Club was proposed by the late Rev. David Keddie, himself a Past President.
Visits and Outings
Planning and organising visits and outings to places of interest is another of the responsibilities of the hard-working Social Convener, and down the years Bill McMurray, Andy Connell, Walker Leith, Alan Murphy and more recently Archie Henderson have worked very hard to make these trips successful
Members and guests have enjoyed visits to such diverse venues as the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Cruachan Hydro-electric Scheme, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, East Fortune Aircraft Museum, the Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn. Particularly popular were the cruises “doon the watter” on the PS Waverley and the “sludge boat” MV Garrioch Head. The planned sail on Loch Katrine was especially memorable, when the coach driver got lost on the way there and our party arrived at the pier in time to see the departing MV Sir Walter Scott already out in mid-stream.
Half-day visits to more local venues have also become a regular annual routine. Memebers have enjoyed guided tours of the refurbished Kelvingrove Art Galleries, the People’s Palace, the new BBC Scotland headquarters at Pacific Quay, the Glasgow Police Museum., the famous Titan Crane at the former John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank, and Auchentoshan Distillery.
Annual theatre visits have also been a feature much enjoyed by members and their guests. Every year the Club takes a block of seats at the Kings Theatre for the annual musical presented by the Paisley Musical and Operatic Society, always a lively show full of melody and colour. Later in May or June another popular visit is made to Pitlochry Festival Theatre for a matinee performance of one of the excellent plays put on in the “Theatre in the Hills”.
Sporting and Other Pursuits
In 1991 the committee conducted a survey to ascertain members’ interest in sporting activities, and as a result three sections were set up to provide opportunities for golf, bowling and walking. Volunteers were found to lead each of these sections, and these have provided good comradeship and suitable modest exercise for those members taking part. Unfortunately the annual golf outings have had to be abandoned because of the increasing cost of green fees at local clubs, and the bowling section too is no longer active.
On the other hand, the walking group, guided by the intrepid Bob Crawford, continues to thrive, putting its best foot forward every second Tuesday on guided mystery tours along some of Glasgow’s most interesting and scenic walks, always of course with the sun shining from a cloudless sky! Sometimes Bob even allows his flock to stop for a short coffee break, although he doesn’t really approve of such wimpish behaviour!
From its inception the Club had always regarded the Hillhead Sports Pavilion at Hughenden as both its natural and its spiritual home, which it remained until 2006, when the Club first heard of the possibility of a major re-development of the entire sports complex, including major extension and upgrading of the clubhouse and the construction of a block of flats. It was clear that Kelvin Probus would have to find an alternative venue and the only venue which met the Club’s requirements was the main hall of Jordanhill Parish Church. So in March 2008 agreement was reached for the Club to meet there for the year 2008-09, and this continued to be the Club’s home until September 2022. The one difference was that while members enjoyed the facilities of the bar at Hughenden, they have borne the absence of such a facility at lunchtime in the Church with great fortitude. It was decided to return to Hughenden in September 2022.
Past, Present and Future
Looking back, Kelvin Probus Club has been a great success, and today’s members are greatly indebted to the small group of gentlemen who conceived the original idea, and to the founder members who supported them in their venture. Inevitably many of those early members are no longer with us, and many others who were been loyal members have also passed away. Their regular attendance at meetings, and their support of outings and social events will always be remembered and appreciated.
At present Kelvin Probus Club is thriving, there is a healthy level of membership and there is an encouraging flow of applications for membership. At the fortnightly meetings there is always a warm sense of comradeship and good humour, and visits and outings are well supported. Club traditions have been well established, and administrative procedures developed and adapted as required.
We look forward to the future with confidence, secure in the knowledge that Kelvin Probus Club is in good heart and will continue to prosper in the next twenty-five years and beyond.