The Crossing of the Three Firths
Pat Hunter Gordon
"The Mighty Machines of AI Welders were silent last night as a mark of respect
for Major Pat Hunter Gordon, the company’s chairman
and prospective Parliamentary Conservative Candidate for Inverness-shire
who died on the Fort William to Inverness road yesterday."
above from The Press and Journal
Pat Hunter Gordon M.C. , C.B.E. , M.A. . C.Eng. , F.I.E.E. , F.Inst. Pet. , J.P, D.L.
Although an industrialist, Pat Hunter Gordon came from farming stock. His forebears farmed on the Black Isle and in Easter Ross.
His father Sam was a younger son and therefore instead of farming alongside his brother in Easter Ross went into engineering, eventually running the Rose Street Foundry in Inverness, which later became AI Welders.
Pat was born and brought up in Inverness. He joined the army when he left school partly to enable him to go to university. Money was a constant worry for the family. The profits from the business were poor and intermittent.
The priority was always that the work force be paid. As the largest employer in Inverness there was always a huge feeling of responsibility toward all those families in Inverness who relied on their salary from the works. One December when things were particularly bad his mother paid the men’s wages using up the last of her dowry.
The army paid for him to go to Cambridge to study engineering which he did, designing a car powered by potato peelings as a fun project on the side. On graduating B.A. hons from Cambridge in 1936 and already in the Royal Engineers – the Sappers - he found a world already quietly preparing for war - WW11.
He was sent to Belgium and France early to prepare them for the German invasion. He saw and experienced things that were to affect his health for the rest of his life . He was awarded an M.C. for blowing up a critical bridge whilst under enemy fire. He was later sent to the war in Borneo and surrounding areas against the Japanese.
After the war he taught at The Military College Sandhurst in Camberley as a Lt. Colonel.
His father was approaching retirement and was keen for Pat to come north and take over the business. Pat had developed a severe form of psoriatic arthritis which was affecting his ability to be a soldier. So, he retired ( Major) in 1950 and moved north to Inverness with his family.
He had married Valerie de Ferranti and had 3 children. They were later to have three more. She was the daughter of Vincent de Ferranti whose Ferranti engineering company was to rise to great heights. Sadly, it no longer exists. After a time, his father Sam retired and he took over as chairman of AI Welders.
During his time in charge, AI Welders (who made specialized welding machines) increased turnover from around £400,000 to £2,500,000 and exported to markets all over the world. The feeling of responsibility to his workforce and their families remained, and drove him to always do all he could to get orders for the company.
To be competitive was always difficult because of the poor roads – the A9.
AI Welders made large heavy machines. He knew too well the problems caused by poor transport links.
Besides a few other commercial interests, he took an active interest in Highland affairs.
One of his main objectives had been to develop industry and create employment in the Highlands. This drive was a continuation of his urgent search for orders for AI Welders. Before the oil industry came to the North he saw the decline that was happening to his beloved Highlands and he knew that without positive action it would get worse. He saw that new industry was needed and it would not happen without a better transport system.
Later on – oil was discovered in the North Sea and it became clear that there would be plentiful jobs. His concern then was that it should happen in such a way as not to destroy the Highlands and its people and that the need for a good transport system was even more important.
It was partly because of this, that, after talking to Reay Clarke - he co-produced a pamphlet, in 1969, advocating the crossing of the Beauly, Cromarty and Dornoch firths. This was at a time when the government intended to spend millions on improving the meandering A9’s coastal route.
Reay cared passionately about land use and objected strongly to the amount of prime arable
land that would be destroyed with the existing government plan.
Pat with his farming grandfather understood that too They both also saw that the new coastal road would not do what was needed to open up the Highlands north of Inverness.
Both he and Reay argued that the shortest and quickest way between two points is a straight line. This could be achieved by crossing the three firths which would halve the time taken to get from Inverness to Dornoch and make travel from north of Dornoch to Inverness a civilised possibility.
It was a huge BATTLE that he took on - a battle he eventually won, although sadly he did not live to see the bridges built.
Only the week before his death, he was delighted to see The Government making a commitment to the final link in the chain of bridges - at Dornoch.
The coming of the oil industry brought problems for AI Welders. They could not offer the same sort of salaries offered by the oil companies and there was the first ever episode of industrial action.
Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall and when a good offer was made in 1973 he accepted with sadness but also with relief. The company was merged with EC Holdings Ltd based in the English Midlands. It kept its own name but he retained only the titular chairmanship.
Having at last had the huge weight of responsibility for his workforce removed, he might have retired. However, he saw it as an opportunity to help even more of the Highland population, by going into politics, which he did, despite poor health.
His health had not been good since the war. His psoriatic arthritis affected all his skin and all his joints. He was in fairly constant pain and his movements were restricted. Keeping busy and fighting to improve life in his beloved country - the Scottish Highlands - was his way of dealing with it.
Listed below here are the many things he was involved with;-
Current Activities at time of death
Chairman - “The Scottish Council” Highland area (Development and Industry) he served on the executive of the council and their oil policy committee.
Chairman - Highland Air Transport Consultative Council, who campaigned for re-introduction of the London jet service which resumed just after his death.
Chairman - Moray Firth Industrial Group; On the arrival of oil related industry in the north he was instrumental in forming this group to bring local and incoming companies together to minimise the impact on local industry and to help the incomers
Member - “Oil Development Council for Scotland”
Member - “Nature Conservancy Council” Advisory Committee for Scotland
Member - “Forestry Commission” regional advisory committee for the north of Scotland
Member – Highlands and Islands War Pensions Committee
Member – Caincross Committee on Economic Development of Scotland 1952
Member - Highland District committee, Scottish Board for Industry 1952-1958
Member - North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board 1960-1965
Member - Scottish Hospitals Endowment Research Trust 1964-1968
He also instigated the Dalwhinnie Development Association formed to counter the effects of the A9 by-passing the village
He was a leading campaigner in the common market campaign and also for the“Scotland is British” anti-devolution vote
He was selected as prospective Parliamentary candidate by Inverness-shire Conservatives
in Oct 1975
Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers F.I.E.E.
Fellow of the Institute of Petroleum F.Inst of Pet.
Deputy Lieutenant in the County of Inverness D.L.
Justice of the Peace J.P.
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
In 1976 he became a CBE, in the New Year’s Honours List. C.B.E