James McCargow

Biography of James McCargow

James McCargow
James McCargow

James McCargow, who has died at the age of 92, spent most of his career in the administration of Glasgow University, culminating in his tenure of the post of Registrar and Secretary to the Court (the University’s governing body). An administrator of exceptional talent, he brought to this post not only his formidable intelligence, but also considerable diplomatic and political skills.

Born in 1920, he was the youngest and last surviving of three brothers. Their father was the foreman and manager of a small iron-foundry in Glasgow’s east end. The foundry knew boom times during the First World War, but collapsed in the post-war slump. In 1924 their father found himself out of employment at the age of 50. Thereafter his employment was intermittent, and in the early ’30s it was non-existent. The family knew hard times.

James and his brothers were bright pupils at school, but their ambitions were understandably modest. The extent of their hopes was to avoid unemployment, which they knew as a scourge. They hoped to find places in local government service, or in the lower reaches of the civil service. This was achieved by George, the eldest brother, who left school prematurely to take up a clerkship with the Corporation of Glasgow. He could well have continued in full-time education, but was only too aware that the family badly needed the wage he could earn. It was with George’s help, therefore, that James and his twin brother Andrew were able to stay on at school and obtain a Leaving Certificate. At that point their headmaster, who was ambitious for them, persuaded their father that they should be thinking of a university degree. And so it was to be. James went to Glasgow University where he achieved a first-class honours degree in French and German.

The Second World War broke out when he was still a student, but he was granted exemption from army service until he had completed his studies. In 1941 he was appointed to the Sudan Defence Force, where he rose to the rank of Major (or ‘bimbashi’, as it was locally known). After the war, he remained in the Sudan, where his linguistic abilities soon saw him passing the required examinations in Arabic and becoming Assistant District Commissioner in the colonial Sudan Government Service. Combining, as it did, the roles of administrator, politician, and judge, this post was to give him experience that would prove invaluable in his future career. In 1946, he used his first home leave to renew his courtship of Ann Dunlop, whom he had known throughout their student days at Glasgow. They married on his next leave in 1947, and Ann spent the following 2 years with him in the Sudan, at first in the southerly town of Juba, and then in Wad Medani, the capital of the Blue Nile Province. They left the Sudan in 1949, as the future of the country was then uncertain.

On their return to Scotland, James taught briefly at Glasgow’s Hyndland Secondary School before deciding that teaching was not for him. Later in life - with perhaps undue modesty - he would maintain that if he had enjoyed some advancement in his worldly career, it was largely owing to circumstances outwith his control. However, there can be no denying that at this point in his life good luck did play its part. Abandoning a secure - if uncongenial - job in teaching, he applied for a purely temporary post at Glasgow University, which was looking for someone to help organise the celebration of its 500th anniversary in 1951. Not surprisingly, his abilities were quickly recognised, so that when his temporary assignment came to an end he was invited to join the permanent staff of the University. So began his career in university administration, which saw him rise through the ranks to become Secretary to the Court and Registrar of the University in 1974. The post was extremely wide-ranging in its responsibilities and challenging in its demands. Indeed, such was the breadth of its remit that the roles of Secretary and Registrar were eventually separated into two posts just two years before his retirement in 1985.

After his retirement, James and his wife Ann moved to Edinburgh. James died on Friday 7th September 2012. He had been admitted to hospital on 23rd June following a stroke. He moved into Marian House care home - where his wife Ann was already a resident - on 14th August 2012, and there died peacefully following another stroke. He is survived by his wife Ann, his daughters Jill and Ann, and his grand-children Helen and Ian.


James McCargow
Born 1920.
Died 7 September 2012.
University Link: GU Degree:
Occupation categories: Secretary of Court of the University in 1974
Record last updated: 22nd Sep 2016

There are no comments available.