John McCann – Obituary

John McCann, a long-time member of Royal West, died peacefully in Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, aged 84, on 23 March following a short illness. As with all deaths at this time, his funeral was attended only by a few – his wife, Brenda, his two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth and their husbands. Brenda has intimated that, at a suitable date, there will be a celebration of John’s life where his other relatives and many, many friends can join together to give thanks for knowing this remarkable warm-hearted gentleman.

John was a local lad being brought up in the Strone of which he was proud (he used to style himself in his teaching days as “McCann of the Strone”). Born in August 1935, he made his way in the world by sheer hard work, sharp intelligence and a cheery disposition. His career path took him into teaching at which he excelled. In his early student days he supplemented his grant by working during the summer holidays – a spell as a galley boy on the “Jeannie Deans”, constructing oil storage tanks at Faslane and working in farms in the countryside behind Greenock.

Following Jordanhill where he trained to be a “Techie” teacher his first school was St. Mirren’s Academy, Paisley, but with call-up he found himself in the RAF which proved to be of great significance in his life. On the first night in uniform at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire for training, he attended a dance where he met Brenda, and the rest is the story of their life together; marriage and family came along and living in a bungalow at Gray Street, at the top of Bawhirley Road.

John’s teaching career went down the mathematics route and for seven years he taught at John Neilson Institution, Paisley where he worked under two outstanding Principal Teachers, Andrew Alan and then Alec Young, both of whom went on to become Head Teachers, in Mr. Young’s case at Port Glasgow High. John’s teaching path took him to Port High where he led the Maths department with the vigour and diligence characteristic of him. His influence on his pupils produced excellent results. Fond memories of “Genghis McCann” for both his teaching and his skill in dealing with his pupils come from the Graham family. Recognition of his qualities took him to the post of Assistant Head Teacher in Grove Park School, Greenock where he remained until 1987.

Rationalisation of the provision of secondary education in Inverclyde led to the amalgamation of Cowdenknowes and Grove Park to form Wellington Academy. John was offered early retiral and, as Brenda recalls, he says he thought about it for all of two minutes and accepted. In following years John did some supply teaching, including a spell at Gourock High where, I heard from one admirer of John’ s, that her daughter had said that he was the best teacher she’d ever had.

In preparing this I spoke to Billy Paul who worked with John in Grove Park. Billy and John formed a great team and Billy expressed the greatest admiration for John – “great to work with”, “a joy to be in his company”, “warm-hearted”, “very professional”, “nobody messed with John”, “old blue-eyes”. I can add my tribute, when as a young teacher, John would give me a lift to and from JNI where I started my career. He and Brenda also arranged for me to make some extra money by tutoring.

Apart from Brenda and his family, John’s great loves were sailing and playing the fiddle. He first got into dinghy sailing back in his RAF days when he crewed in the finals of the RAF championships at Coats Water near Swindon. Brenda recalls that following one regatta he and his mates got gloriously drunk and he fell down the stairs into the pub’s cellar. The landlord dusted off his uniform with the dartboard duster!

John had caught the sailing bug and he pursued this at Royal West and in the Renfrewshire Schools Sailing Scheme based at the club when, under Andy Harvie, he was one of the instructors. When the family moved to Kilbarchan John built his own dinghy. With his woodworking skills this was no problem for John and to complete the work he varnished the mast, balancing one end on Brenda’s cut-crystal salad bowl, which to this day still bears the varnish mark on its silver rim. At Royal West John took part in the racing and, according to Brenda, in recruiting a crew member, he would announce “crew member required, need not have sailed before”.

In his time at Royal West John had three keel boats, all moored off the club. The second, a 21 foot Jaguar, was driven ashore and wrecked in a great storm. The final one, a Sadler named “Lyonnesse”, purchased in the 80’s, was John’s pride and joy for 30 years. Tuesdays saw John and pals, including Bob Hughes, Ted Kelly and Jim Kerridge set off in “Lyonnesse” to Kilcreggan on a “Bass Special” weekly outing.

John and Brenda, often in the company of Allan McDougall, another of John’s teaching pals and one-time Rector of Greenock Academy, would sail the west coast. We once met this group when we kayaked into Arinagour, Coll and shared a hearty meal with them that evening. During his retiral years he and Brenda spent many happy years both sailing and visiting foreign lands, often in cruise ships.

John’s other great love was playing the fiddle and for many years he entertained at the Boat Club Burns Suppers and was in great demand to play at ceilidhs, etc. in Brookfield where he lived for forty two years. He continued to play and for several years was an active member of Bearsden Fiddlers. When John and Allan arrived at a port on a sailing expedition in the Western Isles they would make for a pub and entertain the punters with their lively fiddle music.

While John’s funeral was as demanded by the circumstances we find ourselves in during these dark times, it was not without music. Recordings of “The Lords My Shepherd” and “The Dark Island” were played and, in a wonderful touch, the recessional music was that beautiful violin piece “Ashokan’s Farewell” played by Bearsden Fiddlers, with John playing at his own funeral. Brenda’s comment: “John McCann, Live at the Crem”

Hugh Kerr