Bill Ford

Bill Ford, a passionate Scot came to France from his native Fife.

Cruelly taken away from us by a terrible illness in July 2007, the illness did not take away our memories. Of his typically Scottish banter, his personality forged from an insatiable sense of curiosity, the passionate debates and the friendship he gave us. He loved Scotland, he loved Ireland, he loved Celtic, he loved those close to him, he loved life. He taught us so much. He gave us so much in giving life to what is more than a supporters club.

We will never forget him because he is always with us in spirit.

Rest in Peace, Bill.

Obituary – The Scotsman

From the Scotsman Translator and teacher Born: 7 September, 1953, in Kirkcaldy. Died: 5 July, 2007, in Paris, aged 53.

Bill Ford’s was a life of extreme contrasts. As president of the college Student Representative Council, he was notable for leading a major student occupation of Moray House in 1975-76. Within six months of the end of the occupation, he turned his back on a teaching job in Scotland (and no doubt a political career) to move to Paris. Although a regular visitor here, he was to spend the remainder of his life in France.

His politics as a young man were of the revolutionary left – he was a member of International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party) – and that undoubtedly ensured a career in mainstream politics was stillborn. He briefly taught English as a foreign language but quickly found work as a translator. He was to be gainfully employed and well remunerated as a translator and as a manager in the financial and banking sector in Paris for much of the rest of his life.

But Bill was more than a political animal and much more than the sum of the demands of his exacting jobs. He was a dedicated social being, an avid reader and bibliophile and a man of untiring mind and zest for life. His energy for conversation (especially if supported with a bottle or two of wine) was legendary. A walk round the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow or Paris was always a history lesson woven from memories of contacts, events and reading. He was generous with his time and unfailingly kind to others. As one of his many friends in France said, Bill was action direct not only politically but also socially.

Before the 2005 general election, he mentioned to a mutual friend in Fife his shared past as a Scottish Union of Students and NUS delegate with the then prime minister in waiting, Gordon Brown – something about a carry-out on the platform of Newcastle station on the way south for an NUS conference sometime in the 1970s. Petitioned for his vote by the said Mr Brown on the campaign trail on Kirkcaldy High Street, the said Fife-speaking friend asked, ‘Div ye ken Bill Ford?’ When Mr Brown seemed to answer in a broad smile of recognition, he was hit with the retort, ‘He says yer owin’ him a fiver!’The then Chancellor unembarrassed, beckoned an aide for cash, the grin ever broader. As well as political colleagues and adversaries, he and Mr Brown had been classmates at Kirkcaldy High School and Edinburgh University.

Bill’s interest in language was lively too. Fluent in French, he often spoke in Scots vernacular. He had knowledge of several other European languages. He loved the fun and nuance of words. I once visited Bill and Hélène in their large country home in Normandy (another contrast for a Thornton boy). He handed me a CD cover and asked if I could indentify and explain the meaning of a song title without taking clues from the artiste. It was Aninginainanaw. Possibly thrown by the context, I hadn’t a clue. Bill delighted in my confusion and played the track. It was a smart and cleverly executed Michael Mara number about a conversation in a Dundee baker’s shop. Pies and bridies. Flavours. Two customers, one orders an onion one. Think about it. Bill would have felt unalloyed joy in the puzzled look on your face.

Last year, he turned up at an event in the National Library of Scotland. It was a talk given by the playwright Hector MacMillan on his book about the life of the Scottish radical Thomas Muir of Huntershill. Over a meal afterwards, he befriended Hector and waxed knowledgeably on the radicals in post-revolution Paris in the 1790s including Scots and Irish. In a strange and ironic twist, having then devised a research proposal on this topic, Bill contacted a professor of English culture at the Sorbonne and arranged a meeting. On the appointed date, he turned up only to find the professor’s office occupied by youths, fresh from car burnings in the banlieue, literally throwing computers out of the windows.

Yes, of course it’s ironic, conceded the former college occupier. But he would not tolerate slack political thinking. These kids are plebians in the Marxist sense, he said. They have no politics, no political programme and no leadership. It’s just letting off steam. He was equally scathing of loose social democratic politics all around in Britain and France.

Born the son of a merchant seaman, circumstances around his birth and his mother’s health required that he live large parts of his childhood with his paternal grandparents in the village of Thornton, then notable as a railway junction. After such a difficult start, his grandparents were his safety net. Bill inherited a love of books, ideas and politics, as well as a positive notion of himself from them – his grandfather worked on the railway at Thornton and was a National Union of Railwaymen official and a local councillor.

The single major influence on his productive life though was Hélène. They met in Spring 1979 and were together to the end. Behind the easy social exterior, underneath the engaged operator in the world of ideas, work and politics, behind his playful and serious obsession with the affairs of Celtic FC in the last decade, finding Hélène gave Bill what he had craved his entire life. He was a man of profound personal pain and hurt and she gave him the love and acceptance he desperately needed. In the face of what sometimes seemed to the outsider like impossible and eccentric demands, she was his patient and loving strength.

His pain eventually won out. In a strange and barely believable twist of fate, his symptoms became manifest immediately after a case conference he attended for his mother Mina in Glenrothes hospital. He literally collapsed and was airlifted back to Paris. The lung cancer that may have been active for some time became aggressive and he was to live only for a further five weeks.

He is survived by his mother, Mina, and by his wife, Hélène Steinberg Ford.

Bill Ford