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Supermarket owner and ‘Mister Aberchirder’, Willum Rennie dies age 81

Willum Rennie -  'heart and soul' of Aberchirder.
Willum Rennie - 'heart and soul' of Aberchirder.

The “heart and soul” of Aberchirder, Willum Rennie, has died aged 81.

He ran the village store, become lead volunteer fireman, got elected as town councillor, served as an elder in his church and still lived his entire life on Aberchirder Main Street.

“When I tell you dad was at the very heart of Aberchirder I wasn’t exaggerating. He would have done anything for this wee place,” said Carol Kelman, Willum’s daughter.

Bella Rennie’s shop

William John Rennie – known as Willum – was born at home on 112 Main Street Aberchirder, on October 14 1941.

In 1923, Bella Rennie, Willum’s granny, set up a grocers and shoemakers shop next to the family house of the same address. She had moved from a small shop in North Street to the new premises – which had been Coulls’ bakery – that was then established as a general merchants.

Bella’s son – also William John Rennie – took over the business when she died. He married Ivy, one of the shop assistants and they had one child, Willum.

Family business

Willum attended Aberchirder school and then Banff Academy but at just 12-years-old his dad died. Desperate to leave school Willum jumped at the chance to work for George Sims in Huntly. There he served his apprenticeship as a shoemaker before returning to the family business.

Mending and making shoes, and helping in the grocery, Willum worked hard. However, during a well deserved night off in Turriff, he met 17-year-old Elma Clark at a dance in St Congan’s Church hall.

Willum Rennie and wife Elma who were married for 60 years.

The young shoemaker – who was also a drummer in his friend’s band – got married to Elma in Turriff Church in 1962. They had their reception at The Royal Oak before heading “awa for a couple of days.” On their return they moved into a wee house behind the shop, accessed by the lane.

Willum and Elma went on to have two children, Carol and William, and followed in the family tradition of working in the store together.

Rennie retirement

In 1968 Willum’s mother Ivy retired leaving the day-to-day running of the shop to her son and daughter-in-law.

That same year they undertook the first of two big alterations to the premises. The first one would improve the existing shop, but the second, in the early 80s, would see the shop expanded to become a supermarket.

The shop began trading as Centra, then later as a Mace store before finally becoming a Costcutter. When Willum and Elma eventually retired in 2005 the Co-op bought the family business and for the first time in 82 years there wasn’t a Rennie in charge of Aberchirder village store.

Village close to his heart

Over the years Willum’s commitment to his village was evident.

Before it was abolished in 1975, Willum served on the town council. He was also lead fireman of the village’s retained fire service for 20 years.

St Marnan’s Football Club exhibition, Aberchirder. From left is Willie McKinnon, Bob Peden then Willum Rennie and Jim Sharp. Phot supplied by Andy Taylor.

A member of the local masonic lodge, elder of Marnoch parish church and former president of Aberchirder Bowling Club, Willum also supported the buying and refurbishing of the village hall.

“Abody kent my dad,” said William. “He was like ‘Mister Aberchirder’. We’re just devastated no to have any more.”

‘Never too busy to help’

On retiring the Aberchirder community website, Foggieloan, described the Rennies’ contribution to village life.

“Willum and Elma have been more than just shopkeepers to the people in and around Aberchirder.  Over the years they have helped numerous people in so many ways – far too many to mention.

Aberchirder couple Elma and Willum Rennie, pictured at their retirement in 2005.

“Never too busy to offer good advice or information, what they didn’t know, they would go out of their way to find out just to be able to help.

“With Willum’s experience and involvement with the former Town Council and many community and other groups, he had lots of contacts and would always have, or be able to get, the answer to anyone’s question or problem.”

Family man

Above all else, the Rennies say he will be remembered for being a man who loved his family.

He and Elma bought a residential caravan in Lossiemouth which they loved. It was enjoyed especially by their grandchildren who the couple regularly took with them to their beach retreat.

In happier times, Elma and Willum Rennie and their grandchildren.

Willie died at home following a long illness surrounded by his family on Sunday December 4.

He is survived by Elma, Carol and her husband Michael, and William and his wife Yvonne. He was a proud granda to Louise, and her partner Stewart, Gary, Scott and Phoebe. Recently he also became a great granda to baby Archie.

Elma added: “Willum was a lovely person. He loved a laugh and a joke. He was great hearted. Did a lot for the local community and helped abody.

“He’s missed more than we can all say.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.