Wasps Chair Andrew Burrell reflects and collects memories from others on the life of and friendship with founding director Tom Laurie OBE, who passed away just before Christmas.
Many of our artist tenants, staff and Board will have known Tom who sadly died just before Christmas in Glasgow at the age of 82.
Tom was one of the founding directors of Wasps and a long serving member of the Board, more recently accepting the honorary role of Patron during the reorganisation of the Group some six years ago. During Tom’s tenure at Wasps the organisation grew, confronting the inevitable challenges, whilst Tom’s energy and optimism inspired those around him.
His significant contribution to Wasps and the visual arts was matched by his interest in, and promotion of, music, theatre and the arts generally in Scotland. His broad interests were key to his ability and enthusiasm for connecting people, ideas and projects, the results of which we will all hopefully enjoy for years to come.
I first came across Tom in the 80’s when developing Ingram Square in the Merchant City and noting his love for urban renewal and conservation, moving on to The Piping Centre in the early 90’s where he was also instrumental in introducing Gerry Grams as the architect to the project. You were never sure what direction your life might take when accepting an invitation for a beer with Tom at Babbity’s; the number of projects initiated there must be a record per square metre for any building in Glasgow.
His influence wasn’t confined to Scotland. I recently discovered his love for Barga, an historic town in Tuscany from where many of our west of Scotland Italian diaspora originate, and a town for which I too have fond recollections but had no idea this also applied to Tom. His stories would have been much better than mine but I’m too late.
In order to capture some of the importance of Tom’s involvement in Wasps, as well as the impact on the lives of many who collaborated with him, I asked a few former Board members and colleagues to provide a personal anecdote or two. Hopefully these might inspire many others to reflect on their memories of Tom.
I first knew Tom when, as a young woman, I started working for the Bridgegate Trust which was the organisation restoring the old Fishmarket, to become the Briggait. Tom was one of the original trustees and the quantity surveyor for the job. We camped in his office while the work was being done and I enjoyed many impromptu concerts as Tom would arrive into the office and burst into some Scottish song, just for the sheer joy of it. He was the most vibrant, warm and nurturing person anyone could hope for in their first job and he had a huge impact on my personal and professional life. Without him and his enthusiastic love of Scotland, its buildings and its people, we would have lost much of our built and musical heritage. A life well lived and sorely missed.
Eleanor McAllister OBE
Patron and Former Trustee, Wasps
Tom was simply a wonderful man. As a young architect I met Tom and Fraser as clients commissioning a small ‘French pension’ (his words) to be created in the east end of Glasgow – at that time (1983) a ‘marginal’ area – of urban dereliction. Tom bubbled with enthusiasm, and ideas, daily. Designs changed with each new vision.
It was impossible to predict just what an impact this little building would have, ‘Babbity Bowster’ under Fraser’s management has become legendary.
From there I consider myself fortunate like so many others to have known Tom. He took me under his wing, introducing Rugby weekends, always ensuring that I didn’t ‘peak too early…’, hidden Parisian restaurants, Dublin bars, charitable Boards (most notably Wasps), impossible projects, grand ideas, and the most varied and colourful array of friends and characters.
A life well lived. A man truly missed.
Former Trustee, Wasps
I knew Tom as both a QS and from Wasps, where he was Chair of the Board, being one of the creative and committed people who first established the idea and delivered a range of studios across Scotland that, from the artist’s perspective was very successful, though we were financially troubled. When he stepped down from Chair I took over and, to provide some continuity, he continued as vice-chair, a partnership that lasted for well over a decade and saw Wasps become not just financially stable but expanding. To mark his retirement from the Chair Wasps commissioned a tenant to make him a stained-glass window for his front door, a gift that touched him deeply.
He was full of ideas, always imaginative, though they were not necessarily deliverable, and was a constant ball of energy, fizzing with enthusiasm, a person one would have thought unlikely to be a QS but his partnership Keiller Laurie Martin was successful and continues today as KLM. There was much else he was involved in and to which he contributed greatly, of which others can better describe, but he will be sorely missed not least in the bar, especially when he sang; he has left much behind for the lasting common good but Wasps alone is a great living memorial.
Patron and Former Chair, Wasps Trust
As a young graduate architect in the 80’s, Tom was the first ‘surveyor’ that I worked with, and he set a standard of energy, creativity, collaboration and enthusiasm that has yet to be rivalled. A road trip with Tom and Fraser with a few others to Cardiff Arms Park to see Scotland play Wales one winter, we got snowbound in Herefordshire on the way back. Tom, armed with his Good Pub Guide found us great places to stay, eat and drink. The stories, laughs and real ale flowed and it became a trip I would never forget. Tom was my introduction to Wasps where I remained involved for over 17 years.
Former Chair, Wasps Ltd
Tom and I worked together for over 15 of his 30 years as chair of Wasps. When I started in the early 1990s Wasps was going through tough times but Tom led the board bravely, always looking to build consensus, seeing the company as a collaboration between artists, staff, board and funders. Early on I knew I was working with a unique surveyor when he told me he couldn’t make a meeting as he was recording an album. That he had a presence in both the property industry and in the arts made him the ideal chair of a hybrid organisation like Wasps.
I learned an enormous amount from working with Tom, particularly about how to conduct yourself in business with humanity and humour. Bursting with ideas, he was always upbeat and smiling, with a joke to tell to start every meeting. The organisation overcame its tough times, traded out of deficit and bought up most of its buildings throughout his time as chair. It would never have got to that point without his positivity and his cheerful guidance. Everyone who worked with Tom at Wasps will never forget his influence on the company but more importantly they will remember his warmth, his compassion and his humanity.
Former CEO, Wasps
In the mid-70s I and other artists were, post-graduation, seeking studio spaces in the city to practice our work. We approached the SAC’s Bill Buchanan. Bill announced that he had set up a company to help, Workshop and Artists’ Studio Provision Scotland (Wasps).In the winter of 1977/78 Tom Laurie, Lindsay Gordon from the SAC and I were walking around Glasgow looking for a suitable building to convert to artist studios, and happened upon a derelict property on King St in the Trongate, which would have been the first Wasps building, had it not been for the fact that a collective of artists in Dundee had secured a former Primary school months before.
Tom turned the fortunes of Wasps around. There was no money in the beginning, and the rental income barely covered the administration costs. Tom secured charitable status for Wasps, and through his infectious enthusiasm attracted influential board members to Wasps to help deliver a strategy that would go on to grow the company nationally. In the beginning Wasps found it a challenge to give the spaces away. Now Wasps’ studio spaces are much sought after, with waiting lists for many of its 20 buildings.
Tom was a very affable, inspirational character, whose enthusiasm and patient dedication he lent to a cause he felt needed to be addressed – that those working in the visual arts in Scotland needed a leg up.
Artist and Wasps Studio Holder
Tom remained a supporter of Wasps and would occasionally call into the office for a chat with Audrey, Stuart and colleagues which was much appreciated. He was a consistently energetic and imaginative contributor to any discussion around the importance of nurturing and promoting those involved in the creative industries and Scotland owes him a considerable debt.
PHOTO: Tom Laurie OBE (courtesy of Barga News)