Abseiling off a 200-year-old bridge to rescue a fallen dog typifies the man Bill Simpson was.
The son of farmers, he grew up with a love of animals and a hatred of those who inflicted cruelty upon them.
It was fitting then, that he’d go on to spend more than 30 years working for the SSPCA, devoted to animals and their owners in and around Aberdeen.
William Simpson – better known as Bill – was born at Cairniewhing, New Pitsligo, on May 31, 1938.
He was one of seven children for John and Elizabeth Simpson, who ran an arable farm but also kept animals.
Despite having two brothers and four sisters he had plenty to keep him busy.
No stranger to hard work, he tried his hand at farming himself before working for the water board then Lovie’s Builders.
On April 29, 1961 Bill married Helen Gordon in New Pitsligo Church of Scotland.
The couple met at a barn dance and would go on to celebrate 60 years of happy marriage.
Together they had four children: Wendy, Jennifer, Billy and Fiona.
Tragically, Fiona was was diagnosed with Leukaemia in the 70s, and passed away at just three-and-a-half years old.
Wendy, Bill’s daughter, said: “Losing my dad has brought it all back. Treatment then wasn’t what it was now. Losing Fiona was hard on my dad.”
In February 1971 when Bill would find his true vocation.
His farming background acted as an excellent foundation for his work with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He completed his training in Edinburgh and was posted to Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire.
After losing Fiona in 1975, the family then moved to Keith, then Elgin.
While there he also covered Banff and Nairn.
A promotion took him to Aberdeen as chief inspector of the Aberdeen branch of SSPCA, where he and Helen lived in Bridge of Don.
The cruelty mannie
Throughout his career the love of animals and their welfare remained his main priority.
This sometimes led to meetings with disgruntled farmers and pet owners who didn’t always welcome his opinion.
“However, he would stick to his guns – usually with humour and banter,” added Wendy.
Bill gained a high level of respect from fellow inspectors, vets and the police when dealing with cruelty cases.
This earned him the name of the ‘cruelty mannie’.
Dedication to his work would often see Bill spend many winter’s evenings turn to the wee small hours, committed to the rescue of an injured animal.
With the dawning of pagers, Bill’s working life was transformed.
Being easily contactable meant quicker responses but also less of Helen asking ‘far hiv ye been?’
One animal rescue which remained a talking point, was when he had to dangle from Craigellachie Bridge to rescue a dog.
Stuck on a ledge after falling down a cliff, Bill had to employ his abseiling training all the while keeping the dog calm to carry it back to safety.
“Wendy joked, “The dog owner was extremely grateful to get her dog back but the down side of the rescue was that he lost his ‘toorie’.
“It was one mum had knitted him and it was last seen floating down the River Spey.”
Power station rescue
Another memorable rescue involving Bill was when a crafty little seal managed to get into the water tanks of Peterhead Power station.
A trap was set to catch it but it took almost a week to tempt the creature into the cage.
It caught the nation’s interest with TV cameras awaiting news of a successful rescue but the worry was that the animal would get caught up in the hydro machinery.
Despite the slippery little seal repeatedly eating the bait without being caught Bill hatched a plan to make sure he was freed with his life in tact.
Because he couldn’t be there in person every day he had power station employees re-fill the cage with bait every day until he was caught without injury.
The TV crews got the ‘happily ever after’ they wanted!
Perks of the job
Having a dad in the SSPCA had its perks for Bill’s children.
Wendy said: “Strictly speaking he wasn’t allowed passengers but we used to fight over who could go out with him in the van in the school holidays.”
On occasion Bill would also bring back animals awaiting a new home, to his house.
“More than once we nagged him until he agreed to let us keep them!”
Bill also used his spare time to fundraise for causes close to his heart.
Sponsored dog walks and judging pet shows were among his favourite events.
Bill retired in 2001 and moved from Aberdeen to Elgin the same year.
He and Helen enjoyed holidays to Canada, Spain, Austria, Germany and two Mediterranean cruises.
He particularly loved his breaks with his sister Margaret and her late husband Jimmy.
In 1988 Bill and Helen attended the Queen’s garden party in Holyrood Palace to mark his commitment to animal welfare.
Due to Covid they marked the occasion later with a family gathering in their garden.
In his spare time Bill loved to drive tractors at country shows, restore old bikes and to repair watches and clocks.
Bill also had his tea early on a Wednesday and the family knew never to phone or visit around 6pm the same night as they knew he would be at the Elgin mart.
He loved the weekly sales and searching for antiques.
Bill passed away after a period of ill health aged 83.
His funeral took place in Elgin but he was buried in New Deer cemetery in Aberdeenshire with his daughter Fiona.
He was husband, dad, grandad, great grandad, father-in-law, brother, uncle and friend.
“My dad was a true gent and will be sadly missed – but we have a lot of happy memories.
“He will be forever in our hearts and now he’s resting with Fiona,” said Wendy.