FOR THE past 70 years, the Thomson family have been closely associated with the Highland Cattle breed through the renowned Woodneuk Fold. This year saw the sad passing of two past Presidents of the Society, William Thomson and his elder son, Tom.

William, eldest son of Thomas Barrie Leishman (TBL) Thomson and Helen Bird, was born on June 5, 1934 and started life at Threepwood Farm near Beith, Ayrshire. TBL was managing director of the family business, the Waterproof and Tarpaulin Company, in Barrhead and the family moved to the town following the purchase of Woodneuk and the neighbouring Killoch Farm in 1942. Whilst TBL and his middle son, Tom, focused on the family business, William and his youngest brother, Adam, concentrated on the suckler herd at Woodneuk and the dairy at Killoch.

The family’s relationship with the Highland breed started in 1954 with the purchase of nine Highland cows and a bull, animals well suited to the rough upland ground found on Woodneuk hill. Whilst TBL focused primarily on the pedigree and family lines, William had a strong commercial focus, and looked on the Highlander primarily as a hardy, functional animal which had to be quiet, easy-calving and most of all, the backbone of a beef cross. This was the foundation for the modern Woodneuk cattle.

In 1959, William married May Renfrew and the couple moved into Killoch Farm before finally moving across to Woodneuk in 1968. They had three children, Tom, William and Elizabeth, and were active in the local farming community with William becoming President of the local Neilston Show and May being President of the Ladies’ section. They formed close bonds with many of the local farming ‘characters’ who would often be found at Woodneuk putting the world to rights. In 1996, May passed away following a long illness, during which Tom moved back to Woodneuk to work on the farm and Elizabeth moved back in 1997 to support William at this time.

In a remarkable twist of fate, a chance meeting with Margaret Morris, who had been a student at Killoch in 1954, led to William remarrying in 2000 and the following 20 years were a happy time where the pair travelled extensively to various Highland Cattle shows and events throughout the country and internationally. Margaret’s passion for all things Highland saw the pair a regular fixture at shows and sales where they formed many strong friendships.

Whilst family was always the priority for William, his real passion was farming, and, in particular, his Highland Cattle. He was extremely proud to follow in his father’s footsteps in becoming President of the Society in 1996-1997, and then to see his son, Tom, achieve the same position from 2016 - 2017. His breeding policies never varied from his strongly held beliefs in ‘functional’ cattle and it led to significant success in the show ring. Highlights include winning the Royal Highland Show with Jock 3rd of Woodneuk and later with Bachy 3rd of Woodneuk and then going on to win the Royal Show and Royal Welsh. Over the years Woodneuk-bred cattle have won many shows in the UK and internationally, a fact which brought him great pride and was a testament to his breeding policies.

Despite his failing health, William was delighted when Woodneuk won the Show Fold of the Year in 2019 – a great tribute to the work of three generations at Woodneuk.

William was always keen to see the Society move forward and was instrumental in setting up the West of Scotland Highland Cattle Club and was first Chairman. He was also chair of the Society’s Breed Development Committee where his, often strong, views on the breed’s functionality could be put to effect. As part of his Society role he took great pleasure in travelling throughout the UK and abroad to help the various clubs and individual breeders who sought his wisdom and experience. A particular pleasure were the times he spent away with Hamish Wilson, Andrew Morrow and Archie McArthur amongst others – and many a tale remains to be told of their exploits – not all suitable for printing as many will understand!

William was delighted to be made an Honorary member of the Highland Cattle Society in February 2010 in recognition of the many years of service and the respect in which he was held

The explosion in demand for Highland Cattle in the Continent in the 1980’s led to William developing enduring friendships with many breeders in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Estonia and Ireland, to name but a few. The visits to these countries, and the return visits to Woodneuk, were a source of great enjoyment to both William and Margaret, and he was proud to see Woodneuk cattle spread so far and wide. The messages of condolence received from these far away friends were a huge comfort to Margaret and the rest of the family.

Sadly, William’s last year was blighted by the onset of dementia and reduced mobility but right to the end his mischievous sense of humour, love of life and of all things to do with farming remained. He spent his last months at Woodneuk surrounded by his family and took great pleasure from his grandchildren. He was devastated by the untimely death of his son, Tom, just a month before his own death.

Unfortunately, the family were unable to have a fitting funeral service for William due to Coronavirus but have been helped throughout this time by all the messages, kind words and offers of help and support that have come in from all over the world. He is sadly missed.

A comment from Archie McArthur to sum up William was: “Willie will be remembered as a family man, a good farmer with an eye for stock, a straight talking decent person who was a good friend to so many” – we hope you all agree.