Highland man Ken Cameron, who was former general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), amazed his family by sharing a rare honour with Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro.
Tributes came flooding in after the death earlier this month of the Fort William born and bred former trade union leader at the age of 74.
But his younger brother Donald Cameron, who still lives in the Lochaber town, was happy to share some more personal memories of the Labour party member and well-known left winger, who described himself as “a socialist and a comrade”.
Donald Cameron, 67, explained that his brother, who was educated at the former Fort William Secondary School, was awarded the Che Guevara seal by Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro.
He said: “At that time, the only recipients of the seal were Fidel Castro himself, Nelson Mandela and Ken, which was a thing that surprised us all.
“To be linked with Mandela and Castro wasn’t bad for a wee boy from Fort William.”
He added that his brother always thought of Lochaber as his home.
He said: “Although Ken left Fort William in 1960 to join the fire service, he never forgot his roots.
“He enjoyed coming back to Lochaber as often as he could and following the fortunes of Fort William Shinty Club.”
And he said his brother had been delighted to be awarded the Freedom of Lochaber by Highland Council in 2001.
Donald Cameron added that he had not been surprised by his brother’s success as a trade unionist as he said there had always been a bit of a rebellious streak in the family.
He said: “Ken was very committed to social justice.
“He could be light-hearted, but politics was his motivation and representing his workers was what really made him tick.”
Ken Cameron’s early career in the fire service was spent in Birmingham. He moved to London when he became general secretary of the FBU and settled in Glasgow when he retired.
He led the FBU through some very challenging times while at the helm between 1980 and 2000.
And the union said he was very well liked and respected by firefighters.
Ken Cameron protected their pay and conditions throughout the Thatcher years and fought off the threat of privatisation of the fire service which was being mooted by right-wing think tanks at the time.
He was also a keen internationalist.
He made the first pro-Palestine resolution at the TUC in 1982, which was critical of the Israeli regime, and was firm friends with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
The former FBU leader’s relationship with Nelson Mandela resulted in the ANC leader becoming an honorary member of the FBU in 1990.
And Mandela wrote a personal letter of thanks to him when he retired from the FBU.
He was also recognised for his close links with the National Union of Mineworkers under the Thatcher government, and for his strong support of the striking miners on behalf of the FBU.
FBU president Alan McLean said: “Ken was a humble man, small in stature but who walked with giants, counting Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela as friends and comrades.”
“Ken will be mourned not only by our movement but by workers all over the world.”