Obituary: Colin Paterson, former MD of CalMac

Colin Paterson pictured with the Maid of the Loch at Balloch, Loch Lomondside.
Colin Paterson pictured with the Maid of the Loch at Balloch, Loch Lomondside.

Colin Paterson, who died in Helensburgh at the age of 80 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease was, from 1980 to 1997, the politically astute, occasionally controversial managing director of Caledonian MacBrayne.

He upgraded the company’s Highlands and Islands shipping fleet in the final decades of the 20th century and frequently stressed that efficient, economy boosting ferries were dependent on improved rural roads and ports, including a new route from Oban to Mallaig.

Paterson was involved in controversy when the company introduced Sunday ferry services in some Hebridean island communities, where people made it clear they didn’t want them.

In 1989 they succeeded in North Uist, but failed two years later at Tarbert, Harris, when the local churches and the vast majority of residents fiercely opposed its introduction.

He also saw the conversion of services generally to end-loading - there were still half a dozen archaic hoist-loading routes when he took over - and all the vessels built under him were drive-through, roll on, roll offs.

There was some irritation though with the names he personally chose for the big ships. Very few of them were traditional and the “Isle of...” formula was criticised for being boring - as well as giving the impression that a number of vessels were operating wildly off-station. For example, the Isle of Arran put in a good few years at Islay.

A member of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Paterson was adamant that sea transport links to the islands were vital to the healthy growth of the communities they serve and he was circumspect about linking them to the mainland with road bridges.

He said the case for more road bridges should be carefully scrutinised because the economy of an island could actually be adversely affected by a bridge – “When an island is no longer an island, its attractions alter in tourist terms -- on the one hand, a road link may make it easier for the delivery of goods but on the other the tourist, who would once stay for some days, may be content with a fast day-trip then straight home again.’’

Colin was decorated CBE for his services to shipping at the age of 61 after 11 years service with Gourock-based CalMac, having joined from North Sea Ferries, based in Hull, where he was UK manager.

He first married Margaret Petrie and is survived by his second wife, Marcella, and four children, Fiona, Catriona, Stuart and Andrew.