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Marjorie Walker, who made Walker’s Shortbread a global brand, dies 83

Paying tribute to his mum, David Walker described her as a "colourful, hardworking woman" who loved animals and the outdoors as much as she did shortbread.

Marjorie Walker OBE, who gave her life to making Walker's Shortbread a success.
Marjorie Walker OBE, who gave her life to making Walker's Shortbread a success.

The son of Marjorie Henderson Walker OBE – one of the three siblings behind Walkers Shortbread – has paid tribute to his mother, who has died aged 83.

David Walker, her only child, said of his mother that she was “a colourful, hardworking woman who loved her family”.

Marj, as she was known to those close to her, was also described as being “as passionate about the countryside and animals as she was about producing the very best Scottish shortbread on the market”.

This was a dedication that would result in her working more than 14 hours a day at the height of her career.

Country girl

Born in hospital in Inverness in July 1940, Marjorie was the only daughter of Williamina Winnie Walker and her husband, James Adam Nicol Walker.

She had two brothers, James and Joe and Marjorie was educated first at Aberlour Primary and Secondary in the village where the family home was, then on to finishing school in the Cotswolds.

There Marjorie indulged her fascination for animals, learning to master horse riding.

“Mum was always mad keen on animals. She would regale her brother Jim with stories of her imaginary farm, hoping one day to be surrounded by animals.

Marjorie and her dogs, at home, around 2010.

“During her time in England she was taken Harrods and given permission to choose whatever she wanted by friends of my grandparents. It was a big offer for a wee country girl from Aberlour. Of course, mum came out with a monkey!

“Jane, as she called her, eventually went to live at Aberdeen Zoo, but animals were always a prominent part of mum’s life.”

On leaving the Cotsworlds, Marjorie spent a further two years in Reiterhof near Frankfurt where she qualified as a riding instructor, however, a knee injury would curtail her dreams of having an equestrian career.

Return to Speyside

In 1961, while living in Norwich, Marjorie gave birth to David before returning to Scotland and the family business, Walker’s Shortbread, a year later.

She was made a full partner in the business with her brothers and was one of the three founding directors in 1980, when the limited company was formed.

Part of Marjorie’s role was overseeing the running of the bakery shops.

At one time there were six stores; one in Aberlour – which is still there – as well as Elgin, Grantown, Aviemore, Kingussie and Buckie.

Popular member of the Walker’s Shortbread team

In a tribute written by her brother James, he described her as “a real people person, like her father, full of kindness.” He went on to say Marjorie was popular with staff.

She also looked after administration and in the early days attended key events and food shows as the Walker’s brand was beginning to grow.

“I have memories as a child of her coming back from these shows with packets of biscuits. I needn’t have got my hopes up about trying these other delicacies though. She would quickly let it be known they were going straight to my uncles to see what our competition was.

Marjorie with her brothers and Prince Charles before he became King, on his tour around Walkers Shortbread.<br />Picture by Bobby Nelson.

“She was fiercely committed to the Walker’s brand and making sure it was the very best it could be. She’d work terribly long hours in the week, when I was being looked after by my grandmother. Sundays were our day for always doing something together.

Motivational businesswoman

As her career progressed Marjorie managed the finances, and took on the role of company secretary.

“She was a composed and magnificent ambassador for the family business. An accomplished bridge-builder when there were disagreements to overcome,” the official Walker’s tribute read.

Marjorie Walker at her house outside Aberlour. Picture by Anna Hellberg.

“Marjorie’s role in the development of Walker’s was highly significant and she was both a motivated and motivational businesswoman. During her time with the business, it grew from one village bakery employing 20 people into an international business employing over 1,000 people.”

In 2004 Marjorie was made OBE for her services to business and exports. At the time she was reported to say she was “absolutely delighted” at the honour, which had come as a complete surprise.

Love of the outdoors

Marjorie retired from Walker’s in 2003. Though she never did return to horses, she had purchased Galcantray Farm, near Nairn 1985, with her son David. This allowed her to spend time there and fishing on Speyside.

“Mum had played curling when she was younger but fishing was her real sport. Though I have to say she was historically pretty poor at it.

“I think she went out more than 35 days in one year – and never caught a thing. However, she really did love people so it was as much a social thing as it was a ‘being outdoors’ or sporting pursuit thing,” said David. “I would be in trouble now for telling you that.”

Captured on the “rare occasion when she did catch a fish”, Marjorie Walker OBE.

Her other retirement pursuit was spending time with her grandchildren Josh and Brodie, David and his wife Beverley.

“She absolutely spoiled them. We have a lot of good memories together. Sadly Brodie passed away when he was just 24, 12 years after a heart transplant. He had lived life full throttle until then. Josh works in forestry and game keeping. I think they both had more than a wee bit of their grandmother in them.”

Latter years

For the last decade of her life Marjorie suffered from dementia. For most of those years she was looked after at home by “Marjory’s angels” – her care team “without whom her residing at home wouldn’t have been possible.”

She was also surrounded by her collection of animal artifacts, and her beloved dogs.

When her condition deteriorated she moved into Speyside Care Home where she passed away peacefully on October 22.

A celebration of her life took place in Aberlour.

Colourful lady

In a final reflection on his mother’s life David said: “She really was an outstanding woman. She would let a wasp sting her rather than have to kill it. And she would buy anything that reminded her of her band of greyhounds.

“On the other hand she was a formidable businesswoman who lived her life in beige. Her car was beige, her dogs were a fawn colour, she wore beige clothes. It was like she was so loyal to shortbread everything was subconsciously that colour.

Marjorie Walker with Walker’s painting which appears on shortbread packets.

“What she lacked in colour in some ways, she made it up for it with her personality. She was colourful – bordering on the eccentric at times.

She is survived by her family and the Walker’s Shortbread legacy of which she has played “unquantifiable part.”