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Obituary: Bill Ferguson, Aberdeenshire farmer and former Vice-Lord Lieutenant

Bill Ferguson.
Bill Ferguson.

The Ferguson Building that dominates the Scottish Rural College campus at Craibstone outside Aberdeen stands as testimony to the efforts of Bill Ferguson who has died aged  88.

When the building was opened 20 years ago, his long-term support for agricultural education in the north-east of Scotland was marked by the main student building being named after him.

There are very few people who contribute so much that they get such a tribute, but Bill had, over many years, campaigned for investment in rural education at Craibstone.


That he was successful in this endeavour confirmed the merits of his gentle but determined consensual attitude to negotiation. It also saw him awarded an OBE for services to agricultural education.

His involvement in rural education in north-east of Scotland was long standing. First serving as chairman of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, then when the colleges amalgamated into the Scottish Agricultural College, Bill became the first vice-chairman of that Scotland-wide organisation.

Beyond his support for better educational facilities for rural students, his commitment to public service was both lengthy and varied.


It followed his reputation as a good farmer being both hard-working and innovative. As such, he quickly gained the respect of those around him, and he was invited to serve on a range of agricultural committees.

He was elected chairman of Aberdeen Milk Marketing Board at a time when it was one of the statutory buyers of milk in Scotland.

His prominent role in various organisations saw him appointed as a director of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland during its bicentenary year in the 1980s.


He was forward thinking, being one of the first farmers to see the link between the environment and producing food and it was no surprise when he became the first chairman of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group of Scotland.

His business acumen was recognised when he was appointed as a trustee of the Aberdeen Endowments Trust, a charity with considerable reserves in both land and buildings.

Recognising his efforts in these various organisations, he was awarded a fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies.

Royal role

The Queen then asked Bill to be her Vice-Lord Lieutenant in Aberdeenshire, an honour which he accepted and where he enjoyed the many tasks that came with that role.

He was brought up on the family farm and went to the primary school in Fyvie then Turriff Academy before leaving school to come back to farm.

Gordon Highlanders

Bill served two years of National Service. Friends would later attribute his attention to detail and being a stickler for tidiness to the time he served with the Gordon Highlanders in Malaysia.

After completing his military service he went to Craibstone to further his education but the early death of his father interrupted that plan and at the youthful age of 21, he took over the family farm.


Few farmers own tidy, or even clean, cars, but Bill was an exception. His farm was well tended with no gates hanging off their hinges nor broken machinery in the yard. Bill carried a reputation for being neat and dapper on all occasions: even when combining, he wore a white boiler suit.

Away from the farm and the many meetings in which he was involved, Bill enjoyed golf, skiing and shooting with friends where success was measured by the enjoyment of the sport not by the score or the size of the bag.


In his younger days, an annual skiing trip to Wengen was a fixture in his diary.

As the years rolled on, his appreciation of wildlife grew and he understood the importance of good native habitats and the role that conservation played in that.

His first foray into commerce came much earlier when he and fellow schoolboy friends attended Turriff Show.


There they would scoop up the prizes for bare-back pony racing as the professional jockeys were so used to saddles.

On one occasion, Bill bought a new pony at the mart in Aberdeen and decided just to ride it home despite the 25 miles separating to Fyvie.

As was recalled at his funeral service, the pony was well and truly broken in by the time they reached home, and it knew who was boss.


He met and married Carroll Milne from a well-known Mearns farming family and together they had a son, William and three daughters Kim, Nicola and Emma. Grandchildren followed and more recently Bill and Carroll enjoyed the company of their great-grandchildren

As a very congenial couple, their lengthy marriage of 61 years was punctuated by many parties where Bill excelled in being a very welcoming and hospitable host; kind and considerate to everyone.


His kindness and consideration for others was also confirmed with Bill serving as an elder at Fyvie Parish Church for more than half a century.

Bill was a first-class communicator. He relished straight talking and while he listened to other people’s views, he had a steely determination about what was right and what was not.

He was a gentleman whose civic responsibilities were carried out, not for personal gain, but for the wider benefit of society.

You can read the family’s announcement here.