Bob Shepherd: a remarkable legacy

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Bob Shepherd’s funeral took place on Tuesday in Kirkcaldy, Fife. The crematorium was, as expected, packed with many having to stand at the back of the hall. 

A mini band comprising some leading names – and some contemporaries – from the pipe band world played as the cortege approached. Fittingly, they were all playing Shepherd chanters. 

Many stories and achievements of Bob’s life were heard at the service and later at the Dean Park Hotel, but the central talking point of many mourners was Bob’s success in taking youngsters from his local area in Fife and making them World Champions.

Fife contained many coal-mining communities where every colliery supported its local pipe band and brass band. Lochore, where Bob was born and raised, was one of those communities. The Lochore Pipe Band won the World Juvenile Championships 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958.

Bob’s full obituary appears in this month’s Piping Times. Due to space constraints, many photographs could not be used and so we have taken the opportunity to publish more of them today. Here, very briefly, is the story of Bob’s success in taking a band of schoolchildren all the way to Grade 1 in a short period.

Dundonald Colliery Pipe Band in 1949.

After Lochore Pipe Band, Bob, aged 14 Bob joined the Dundonald Colliery Pipe Band (the band that later became Dysart & Dundonald) and took solo instruction from Walter Drysdale. In 1950 Robert MacKay, nephew of Bob MacKay, the band’s first Pipe Major, took over. In 1951 the band won the World Juvenile Championship. Dundonald Colliery became Grade 3 World Champions in 1953 and was upgraded to Grade 2, winning the Worlds in 1958. However, the band went into steady decline as the Dundonald Colliery was closed in 1965. 

The Francis Colliery in nearby Dysart decided to adopt the band and it thereafter was named Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band. Pipe Major MacKay retired in the summer of 1966 after 16 years’ service. At the time only Bob, his brother, George and James McFarlane were left. Bob was appointed as MacKay’s replacement and resolved to resurrect the band and keep piping in the community. He brought in a few pipers from the district and, crucially, begun teaching youngsters during school lunchtimes and after school. Bob’s mathematics classroom at the school was where it began.

Ballingry School Pipe Band in 1976.

In 1968, Dysart won Grade 3 at Dunblane Highland Gathering. Two years later it was promoted to Grade 2, after winning the 1970 Grade 3 Champions of Champions title. The Grade 2 Champion of Champions title followed in 1971. In 1973, the band began to make its mark in Grade 1,

Ballingry School Pipe Band in 1987.

Meanwhile, the Novice Juvenile band made its competition debut in 1970. The competed under the name Dysart and Dundonald but as most of the members attended the school where Bob was teaching, in 1971 the band became Ballingry School Pipe Band.

Dysart and Dundonald in 1970.

Bob led the Grade 1 band to World Championship wins in 1977 and 1978 and continued as Pipe Major until 1987. 

Ballingry School’s juvenile and novice juvenile bands later became Lochgelly High School bands when Ballingry School closed. The current instructor is Tom Brown. Keith Robertson is Pipe Major of the Novice Juvenile band, which continues to be successful; in 2019 it won the Novice Juvenile B grade at the British and UK Championships, was third at the Europeans and fifth at the Worlds.

Bob was a remarkable man who has left a remarkable legacy.

Dysart in the late 70s/early 1980s.