Obituary: Alasdair Aird McKee

6 November 2022

In appreciation of a friend and long standing supporter.

Alasdair McKee (Copyright Robert Perry)

Born 23 October 1964

Died 3 November 2022

1989. A hundred people packed into a hall for an unpredictable Annual General Meeting in the West End of Glasgow. There was tension in the air. Some of the committee rebels actively had encouraged ethnic minorities to join the local Housing Association to have some influence and improve their dire housing circumstances. The “Old Guard '' did not like it - even though they espoused “equal opportunities”. I was also in a bit of a “hostile environment” for asking awkward questions. Only one person smiled encouragement. His name was Alasdair Aird McKee. 

Born in 1964 in Kilwinning, a small town in North Ayrshire, 21 miles southwest of Glasgow, Alasdair and his younger sister, Fiona, experienced tragedy early in life, aged 7 and 5, respectively, when their mother, Madeleine McKee (nee Lavalette) died.

Alasdair's grandfather, Wilbur Lavalette, was born in India in a family of French Huguenot refugees. In the early 1930s, he left Kolkata and travelled to Glasgow, where he trained as a Church of Scotland Minister, met and married his Scottish wife and became Minister at Kilwinning Abbey Church for more than 30 years.

Being a Minister, a migrant from India and a refugee family meant he was deeply committed to ecumenism, with strong values of social justice and independent thinking. These values were shared across the family and were reflected in their various career choices: Alasdair's dad, Andrew, was a social worker, his mum a nursery teacher, and Alisdair himself would reflect these deeply held values in his work in the housing field.

Alasdair attended Kilwinning Academy between 1977 and 1982. One of his childhood friends, Graeme Stevenson, said: 

"Alasdair and I had known each other since age 11, we bonded over our shared love of alternative music, he lived directly opposite the school, and often we would head to his house during breaks to listen to the latest punk records we had bought."

He lived his life from a young age. In 1980, aged 16, he became chair of Irvine Youth CND. He would wear his CND badge everywhere and endured a light ribbing from school teachers. 

He joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) at Glasgow University and was on their national student committee. Commenting on this period of his life, he later said: 

“Being involved in the SWP was 110% full on, and I don’t regret it for a minute. We did some amazing campaigns during Thatcher’s era, the Miners' strike etc. I spoke at Universities from Aberdeen to Swansea.”

Michael Lavalette,  his cousin, recalled: 

“We grew up together and spent most weekends at family gatherings.  We were at  Glasgow University around the same time, and he was very politically active, and so was I, but he often harangued me (kindly!) to do more. When I was working for the council in Aberdeen and getting a fair bit of hassle for being a shop steward, he went out of his way to get a car and run me from Ardrossan to Stirling to get the Aberdeen train. The whole way, we were discussing politics and Donny Gluckstein's book on the Western Soviets -Workers Councils Versus Parliament 1915-20."

A driven person, from 1984, Alasdair spent the holidays working at the Centre for Housing Research. He completed an MA Honours at Glasgow University, and went on to complete his Housing Diploma at Stirling University.  

In 1992, aged 28, he became CEO of Glen Oaks HA. Together with the late Pat McGinlay MBE, they drove forward their plan for improving the lives of tenants in Arden, Darnley and Pollok, 

Alasdair married Diane, who he met in 1982 when they were both students at  the University of Glasgow, in 1996. The couple had two daughters, Kirsty and Morna. They were passionate about singing and playing with their band MacBlondie - and it was a family affair. Diane played lead vocalist. His cousin Heather’s husband, Mark, was the band’s drummer. Friends Andy and his son Liam made up the lineup on guitars. Finally, Alasdair played Bass detail along with looking after the band. They played countless charity gigs.

In 2005, Glen Oaks HA was the only Scots firm to make The Inner City 100 -  a yearly index from the New Economics Foundation which pinpoints and celebrates the fastest-growing inner-city businesses in the UK. Staff and committee members met the then Chancellor Gordon Brown in a reception at Downing Street. 

In 2007, Alasdair and his Board brought in celebrity interior designers Colin and Justin to give Arden a makeover for a Channel 5 show. When the show attracted criticism, Alasdair defended the project, saying:  

"Arden has a lot to be proud of and a great community spirit. If it shows that it badly needs some new investment so that new and better homes can be built, that is all to the good."

Amongst his committee roles, Alasdair was a member of SHARE, Greater Pollok CAB and the SFHA. In 2017, he became a trustee of Positive Action in Housing, a Glasgow-based refugee homelessness charity, becoming its Chair in late 2021. He spent time making sure everyone who wanted to speak was heard.

Alasdair would remind me to not work too hard and about the importance of getting sleep and exercise. He talked openly about the struggles of balancing work and focusing his free time on being a father, husband, bass player, and swimmer. He finished by saying:

“Reality is that many people don’t see mental health as just as important as physical health. We are all born equal; things happen to us, and that influences how we deal with things.”

In May of this year, I met with him and two others for a working lunch to discuss a forthcoming strategic day. We walked down West Nile Street on a beautiful sunny day. He suddenly stopped in the street and said it’s 12 Noon, let’s take a selfie, for my photo journal: every day at the same time, he stopped what he was doing and took a selfie of himself and anyone else he was with to capture this moment in time and the look back on it.

Some people coast through life for an easier time. Alasdair McKee was like that line from the movie Sling Blade:

“He lives inside of his own heart. And that’s an awfully big place to live in.” 

Alasdair is survived by his wife, Diane; their adored daughters, Kirsty and Morna; his father, Andy (89), for whom he was planning a 90th birthday in a few weeks; and younger sister Fiona.

Robina Qureshi

A minute’s silence was held by an audience of 100 at our 27th AGM in Glasgow City Chambers, on Friday 4 November 2022, in memory of Alasdair McKee, CEO and founder of Glen Oaks Housing Association, and long-standing friend and supporter of Positive Action in Housing.

Alasdair's funeral was held at Clydebank Crematorium on 24 November 2022.

(published in the Herald Newspaper Obituaries )

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