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Brian Dignan, champion golfer and retired Aberdeen Coal and Shipping manager, dies aged 80

Brian Dignan.
Brian Dignan.

Brian Dignan, retired office manager and lifelong golf enthusiast of Westhill has died, aged 80, in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Married to Pam for 44 years, he was father to Peter, father-in-law to Anna, and was a much-loved papa to Thomas and Skye.

Born at Bridge of Dee, he was the son of Mary and Franklin Dignan, and had one sister, Maureen.

He left school to begin work for Mellis’ grocer’s store  in Aberdeen and, at 21, would move to what was then Aberdeen Coal and Shipping Company.

Developing a meticulous eye for book-keeping he climbed the ladder within the company.

But it was golf, not the day job, that was his true passion, although the two came together at times.

For the love of the game

He would regularly represent the Aberdeen Coal Board in nationwide competitions with his friend George Leadley.

“Brian and my dad would go to Crieff every year representing the company and they’d always win. He was an inspiration to me actually. He overcame a lot to be the golfer and the gentleman that he was,” said George Leadley junior.

Age nine, golf clubs strapped to his back, he would cycle from Bridge of Dee to Murcar Golf Course.

“It would have been a feat of strength for anyone but was especially something for Brian because he had polio as a child,” said Pam.

Surviving serious illness

For three months Brian was isolated in Aberdeen City Hospital after contracting polio.

Pam, who runs north-east dance studio, Pam Dignan Dancers, recalled Brian’s stories of not being able to see his parents.

“He would always talk about his mum and dad throwing sweeties in the window because they weren’t allowed to see him. Not unlike the days we are in now.”

By the age of 15 he was an avid golfer spending any free time he had with friend and future Scotland international Sandy Pirie.

Sandy Pirie, Ronnie Grant, Ian Creswell, Brian Dignan, Ally Phillips, Ian Henderson, George Hamilton and Nicol Stephen.

Sandy said: “I was a member at Hazlehead and Brian started off at Murcar but when we became teenagers we developed a fantastic friendship. If there was daylight left we would be golfing in it!”

The pair, who golfed in the summer and enjoyed watching westerns in the cinema in the winter, would lose touch later in life before rekindling their friendship.

Supporter

“One of the most remarkable things about Brian was his capacity for supporting other people. I played for Great Britain and Ireland in the 1967 Walker Cup match and who was there? Brian. I think there was only him and our other friend, John, from Aberdeen, who came all that way to cheer me on. I never forgot that,” Sandy added.

Brian would eventually win Hazlehead Golf Club’s Champion of Champions tournament in his 20s. He was also club secretary at Hazlehead before moving to Westhill in later years where he would claim the elusive honour of being captain and club champion at the same time.

John Imrie, another former captain of Westhill, paid tribute to Brian.

“Aside from his golfing abilities, Brian was perhaps one of the most thoughtful and considerate people I had the pleasure of knowing. He always maintained friendships, even when there were golfing rivalries.”

Finding love

Golf was even the catalyst for him meeting Pam.

“He was 36 when we met and a confirmed bachelor. A friend of mine set us up on a blind date at the Atholl Hotel. All I was told was that she knew a man from the golf club who was perfect for me. She was right. We met in the April and were married by November.”

Mr and Mrs Dignan on their wedding day in 1976.

Such was his fame that the Press and Journal covered the story with the headline: North East Golfer Takes a Bride.

Happy times

The couple would go on to have a long and happy marriage with notable highlights including son Peter marrying Anna nine years ago, and the birth of their grandchildren.

Following retirement Brian developed a love for gardening, fishing and jam-making, but especially loved his trips to Fraserburgh to go crab fishing.

Mr and Mrs Dignan at the wedding of their son.

“He absolutely loved going up there. He would collect more than a dozen, clean them up, prepare them and give them to our friends. You’ve never tasted crab unless you’ve tasted Brian’s.”

Brian Dignan and grandchildren Thomas and Skye.

A small, humanist gathering to celebrate Brian’s life took place at the Deeside Activity Centre, Aboyne, on Monday, June 14.

Pam added: “We knew this was coming. A doctor said to him a couple of years ago after a cancer diagnosis, ‘you’ll live to 80 and not much older’ , and it turns out he was right. He’ll be greatly missed.”

The family’s announcement can be read here.

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