Ben McAlpine was a one off and the number on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey when he lined up with the Black Angels at Tontine and Vale of Leven Juniors at Millburn was proof and confirmation of that.
Benjamin Maul Richard McAlpine was a big name for a wee man, and he preferred to be called Ben or Benny. He was what’s known as “a character” around these parts.
Ben was always up to something remarkable and he kept that up to the end of his long, fruitful life during which he both entertained and helped people throughout the community in West Dunbartonshire, but most particularly in the Vale of Leven.
He was first and foremost a Renton man though. Born on December 14, 1932, he was the first son to Ben McAlpine and Barbara Moodie McAlpine.
Siblings John (deceased) Kenneth, Colin and Herbert were known in the tight-knit village community as the Five Boys after the Fry’s chocolate bar, which was so popular at that time. Janice completed the family.
They were proud Rentonians from Tontine. Life was hard, but like most people in those desperate Hungry ‘Thirties days, they got through it with humour.
Ben married Helen Chalmers Hamilton on the 15th August, 1953, and had four children, Helen, Barbara Gwenda and Craig. He took his family responsibilities very seriously and his sense of duty stayed with him throughout his life.
He enjoyed the elder statesman role in his later years, telling the children what to do, or at least what he thought they should do.
Early in his married life, Ben was called up for National Service in the army and became a physical training instructor, which stood him in good stead throughout his life.
In the last months of life, he was concentrating on building his muscles and balance, in order to keep going.
One of his daughter Helen’s earliest memories was a human pyramid in the family living room with two children balanced on Ben’s thighs.
Two of them balanced on his calf muscles. He may have been small but he was very strong.
Though Ben had been a soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the family teased him when they found out he never got further than Stirling Castle.
Ben always had a strong work ethic and had three jobs at one time.
The Master Painter he became enjoyed introducing colours that he had mixed himself with exotic wall coverings. He was passionate about painting and decorating and built relationships with customers for over 50 years and went on to paint for the younger generations of many families.
He did “home jobs” in the evening in the early days with his brother in law and best friend Bobby Robinson. They could be seen riding through the town on bikes with their ladders and buckets.
Ben would be singing and Bobby whistling. They said it helped to keep them going.
Ben was involved in further education as in his third job, he taught physical fitness in the Delta boys club.
He motivated young people and was so successful at it that he moved to Braidfield High School in Clydebank, where he taught strength and fitness on a Friday night. This allowed his eldest daughters to join in the adult country dance class at the same time.
Then Ben managed the 67 Centre in Alexandria and again was well respected by the young people as he encouraged them in vocational qualifications before that was fashionable.
He always had a social conscience and thought it was the right thing to do to give something back to society. At the PHIN Club, he taught people with disability to swim he got great satisfaction from this.
Ben was a member of Dumbarton Lions Club, fund raising for many worthy causes over the years. He was also a founder member of The President’s Club at Boghead and was a Dumbarton fan.
He loved football and played in goal. Given his height, this was no mean feat and he played with the Vale Juniors amongst other local teams, including the Black Angels, a team of professionals who played under assumed names to raise money for charity during the summer months.
He got a trial for Partick Thistle in his youth, but the great Tommy Ledgerwood was their man between the sticks at that time and he was irreplaceable.
Ben enjoyed watching sport including Tennis, Golf and Athletics.
Ben McAlpine (back row in yellow jersey) with one of the great Vale of Leven Juniors team of the era in which he played for them.
His daughter Helen told the people who came along to the Masonic Hall in Alexandria to celebrate his life with a full Scottish breakfast, a free bar and a jazz band to dance to thereafter: “As a family childhood memories were wide and varied. Family picnics were in Glen Fruin, where we enjoyed our own private haven known to us as McAlpine’ s pool.
“A family holiday in Austria where we copied the Von Trapp family singing songs from The Sound of Music up in the hillside with our Austrian costumes on and Craig looking cute in his lederhosen.
“When we all got married Dad welcomed Ian, Valerie, Sandy and John into the family, but was happiest with his beloved grandchildren, Jennifer, Melanie, Lawrie, Jamie, Blair, Aimee and Carrie. His great granddaughter, Nina, was the cherry on the cake for Ben.
“When family moved abroad mum and dad combined their love of family with their love of travel from Brunei to South Africa, where Ben purchased a safari suit to complete his Attenborough look.
“He continued to travel and thought the best holiday would be the ‘next one’ He travelled to India for a wedding getting some handmade silk shirts along the way. A round the world trip included a stop in New Orleans cementing his love of trad jazz.”
Helen added: “As Grampa his story telling was fascinating. He painted a picture with words describing jewels and mesmerising faraway places.
“Dad admitted he hadn’t always made the right decisions. One decision he did make that we were proud of was how he coped with his illness. He was never defined by the cancer he was always positive and was genuinely in awe with the level for care he received within the NHS at Vale of Leven Hospital, particularly from the haematology team.
“He admired the technology at The Beatson, where not only was the MRI scanner seen to be an adventure, but when it played his favourite Julio Eglesias number, he asked if he could go round again.
“His philosophy was simple, optimism, glass three quarters full and because we are ill we don’t have to be miserable. His attitude was always positive to the point some of his carers were unaware of his illness.
“Latterly there were many people supporting Ben and the family would like to thank the fantastic health professionals who prolonged and enhanced his life.
“The carers from West Dunbartonshire Council who kept dad going on a daily basis and the Balloch Veterans bowling club for their endless supply of sticky buns and chat that lifted dad’s spirits.”
Ben’s life was celebrated in style in The Vale Masonic Hall where a traditional jazz band and breakfast was enjoyed by over 200 people reminiscing and realising what a good life he had.
Ben McAlpine was well read, widely travelled and received a good education, but he was no academic. His final wish was that his body should be left to medical research.
Helen recalled a conversation with her dad when he mentioned that he would be having the last laugh since he would be going to Glasgow University in the end.