The epitome of a good local reporter

With the passing last week of John Dawson, local newspaper journalism in the Borders has lost a true friend and champion.

Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, 10:34 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:09 am

The outpouring of affection on social media following his peaceful death at the age of 85 speaks volumes for the regard in which he was held, echoing far beyond his beloved stomping grounds of Kelso and Jedburgh.

He was “the epitome of a good local newspaperman”, according to Douglas Jackson, who served under John’s tutelage at the Kelso Chronicle and Jedburgh Gazette in the early 1980s and is now a best-selling historical novelist.

Another of his mentees, John Cunningham, who also cut his teeth on the joint titles, recalled him as “an unforgettable character”.

Former sprinter John Dawson from Jedburgh, with his golf clubs in July 1979.

That is a description which will brook no dissent from anyone who knew John Dawson.

I first encountered him in 1970 when he was at the helm of another Tweeddale Press publication – the Hawick Express – and I was a wet-behind-the-ears trainee reporter.

“Andrew,” he told me on my first day with a trademark twinkle in his eye, “you’ll never be any use if you sit on your backside and wait for news to happen.

“Get out onto that street and find out what’s going on. It’s people who make news, it’s people who are the news”.

Former sprinter John Dawson from Jedburgh, with his golf clubs in July 1979.

It was a mantra which sustained this devoted family man through 22 years as a loyal servant of the Tweeddale Press – a stint which ended in 1983 when the Hawick, Kelso and Jedburgh titles were incorporated into the Southern Reporter.

John’s passion for belt-and-braces news gathering then found new expression when he took over a disused garage in Jamieson Entry in Kelso and, from there, wrote, edited, typeset, printed and distributed the Kelso Echo.

John Dawson’s hands-on approach was almost an anachronism by 1985 when he was featured in an ITV About Britain documentary entitled “Echo of a Borders Town”.

Now available on You Tube, that gem of a film follows John, notebook and scribbling pen in hand, onto the cobbles of Kelso, doing exactly what he had told me to do – finding news and then conveying it, without fear or malice, to his community.

“I like to be fair and have never tried to hurt anyone,” he told the cameras.

John Dawson’s unwavering refusal to bend to spin or sensationalism earned him the respect of his readers.

He was also much admired for his own sporting achievements as a young man – although he was never one to blow his own trumpet.

A flying winger on the rugby field for both Jed-Forest and Kelso, he was one of the foremost professional athletes of his day, winning the coveted Powderhall Sprint in 1952 as John Franklin.

In 1967 his book The Ambassadors offered a first-hand account of a Scottish Borders Club tour of New Zealand and, in 1972, the wrote Gold at New Year about the Powderhall showpiece.

In a much-maligned profession, John Dawson – funny, eccentric and always enthusiastic – was a “one-off”.

We will not see his likes again.