The last Provost, and first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District

Fife Free Press 1981: John Kay - last  Provost of Kirkcaldy being made the first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District. Tribute is paid by Councillor Robert King
Fife Free Press 1981: John Kay - last Provost of Kirkcaldy being made the first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District. Tribute is paid by Councillor Robert King

The name of John Kay will spark many memories among older readers.

As well as being a long-serving local councillor, he was the the last Provost of Kirkcaldy – and the first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District.

Fife Free Press 1981: John Kay - last  Provost of Kirkcaldy being made the first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District

Fife Free Press 1981: John Kay - last Provost of Kirkcaldy being made the first Freeman of Kirkcaldy District

That latter honour was conferred in 1981, and it made front page news in the Fife Free Press.

“A signal and unique honour” was how it was described – signal in “there could be no worthier candidate” and unique given his historic stint as Provost.

The ground broken by Mr Kay extended further than the Lang Toun – he was the first Freeman conferred by any district authority in Scotland.

A fitting tribute to a man who gave a lifetime of service.

Born into a socialist family, his grandfather, Councillor John Balfour, was made a Burgess and Freeman of the Burgh in 1897.

Mr Kay entered service with Kirkcaldy Town Council in 1938, and became a Baillie in 1944. The following year he took over as chairman of the housing committee – an area where he became a respected figure far beyond the Town House walls.

He was “an authority on the spectrum of housing” whose views were sought across the UK.

He also served on every important committee the council had, and represented the burgh on Fife County Council.

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He sat on the influential Industrial Executive which was set up to bring new business to the town after the loss of major jobs in the linoleum trade –it was the group which snapped up 300 acres of land which became Mitchelston Industrial Estate and home to a wide range of major employers, including AH McIntosh, Rank, and the Fife Free Press Group printing plant, among many others.

In 1969 he received his OBE and in 1972 he became Provost amid some quite remarkable scenes.

“Few will forget the night of drama that entailed,” recalled the Press as it stepped back in time.

The Labour Group nominated Mr Kay, and the Ratepayers’ Association, then key players in the local political scene, put forward businessman Roy McNab. The gents were tied on 15 votes each, meaning it went to the luck of the draw.

Mr Kay had been here before –twice. He lost out in 1960 and 1963 in similar circumstances, so would it be third time lucky?
Reported the Press: “In tense silence, the name of Mr Kay, the Labour nominee, was written on a slip of paper and put into the hat. Similarly, that of the Ratepayers’ Association nominee, Roy McNab.

“The draw was made, and from councillors and the public gallery alike came spontaneous applause when it was announced that Mr Kay was the successful nominee.”

Added the Press report: “In the unprecedented scenes of acclaimation, not even Mr Kay’s most fervid opponents begrudged him this moment of triumph.”

Justice, it was generally felt, had been well and truly served.

He was only the second Labour member to become civic head of Kirkcaldy, the first being David Wright who served from 1954 to 1957.

His 40-year career in local government was then honoured as he became the first Freeman of the district.

Fittingly, it was held at the Adam Smith Centre in May 1981 – a venue he had worked so hard to develop.

He was piped in by Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band, and left to rousing cheers and a standing ovation.

The great and the good were all in attendance; from Sir John Gilmour, Lord Lieutentant, and Sir George Sharp, head of Glenrothes Development Corporation, to MPs Harry Gourlay and Willie Hamilton, plus R.F. Murison, Chief Constable, and fellow Fife Provosts.

Councillor Robert King, another long-serving senior figure in local government, paid fulsome tribute.

He said: “The District Council looks upon you as an outstanding individual, one who can be looked upon as an entrepreneur, pursuing as a vigilant elected member, the betterment of working class people;s social and housing environment, the ultimate aim being the richer quality of life the people rightly deserve.”

Mr Kay summed it up best, stating: “This is one of the proudest moments of my life.”