JOURNALISM: Tributes paid to newspaperman Ally McLaws who has died, aged 63

Pictured above: Ally McLaws and his wife, Laura

Leading Scottish journalist Ally McLaws, who has died.

“Writing has been my outlet – I hope what people take away from this is how important it is to talk about your experience. The column has allowed me to release my emotions.”

They are the words of The Herald on Sunday columnist Ally McLaws who penned powerful and moving columns about the reality of living with cancer during a pandemic and the impact it had on loved ones around him.

In recent days, Ally was admitted to hospital during ongoing treatment for terminal lung and brain cancer.

Readers of The Herald on Sunday got to know Ally through his weekly column “Living with cancer during a pandemic” but his links with this newspaper group span several decades.

In his early career he had worked on weekly newspaper titles in Ayrshire before making the move to Glasgow to work for our sister paper, then known as the Evening Times. It was during this time that he worked on several high-profile investigations for the paper before rising through the ranks to become news editor and then assistant editor.

HeraldScotland: Ally McLaws and wife Laura on the Virtual Kiltwalk and Ally with grandson Noah

Ally McLaws and wife Laura on the Virtual Kiltwalk and Ally with grandson Noah

Former Evening Times editor John Scott said Ally’s columns will have brought huge comfort to an army of fellow sufferers but said that “typical of Ally” there was never a hint of self-pity and they had universal appeal because of the excellence of his writing skills.

Mr Scott said: “I had the privilege and joy of working with Ally when I was editor of the Evening Times and Ally was chief reporter and latterly news editor. I say ‘joy’ advisedly because Ally was such a lovely guy and always great fun to be with – someone I feel privileged to call a friend.

“He was a consummate journalist earning huge respect for his campaigning skills, including a series of award-winning campaigns and exposes, many with fellow investigative journalist Mike Hildrey – a chalk-and-cheese pairing that earned the nickname of the Odd Couple in journalistic circles.”

Ally made the swap from newspapers to public relations in 2000, moving to NHS Lanarkshire. In 2002, he joined NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to become the director of corporate communications. It was through his role in the health sector that he became linked with Glasgow’s Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice which at the time was raising £21 million for a purpose-built hospice in the grounds of Bellahouston Park.

He went on to become a trustee on the hospice’s board of directors – a role he only gave up earlier this year due to his deteriorating health.

Mrs Baillie said: “Ally was a very good friend to the hospice and he was such a warm person. There wasn’t a formality about Ally and he was able to put people at ease. We got to know him through his communications role with the health board and in 2012 he became one of our trustees – I think he was very proud of his role with us.

“He had great ideas for our campaign as we were in the midst of trying to raise £21m for our new hospice. He did a lot of his own fundraising which all the family became involved in. I can remember him running around in a tutu to help raise money for us. He had been very brave and positive throughout his illness. He will be missed by everyone at the hospice.”

Ally was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 and had an operation to remove a lung and hopefully cancer with it, but a follow-up scan detected the disease in his chest and blood cells. He also battled a major threat of septicemia and was seriously ill in hospital.

He endured months of treatment and follow-up appointments with amazing strength and positiveness, but in February of this year was given further devastating news that the cancer had spread.

However, Ally’s question to doctors was: what’s next? He began radiotherapy at the Beatson Cancer Centre to target brain tumours before being able to resume regular chemotherapy.

HeraldScotland: Ally raised funds for Macmillan Cancer Support with the help of friend Stuart Wilson

Ally raised funds for Macmillan Cancer Support with the help of friend Stuart Wilson.

Throughout the past 13 years, he has had the support of his wife Laura who has been by his side. The couple first met in primary one at Thornliebank Primary School. All through school he was “Santa” as in a Scottish Santa McLaws. Following a divorce, he met up again with Laura, who had been widowed in 1999, and they married in September 2012.

She referred to him as “my hero, my Santa, my life” and said “he even managed a cheeky wink at the end”.

Their family meant the world to both of them. Ally had three children and Laura four children. Between them they had 11 grandchildren.

In 2019, Ally drew on his experience in journalism and communications to set up his own firm, McLaws Consultancy, specialising in offering expert media advice to businesses and special causes.

When The Herald launched a campaign to create a memorial to Scotland’s Covid victims last May, Ally became a member of our steering group, guiding the project and bringing ideas to the table to what he felt was an important campaign and a legacy to mark what people had been through during the pandemic.

Ally and Laura helped raise funds for the campaign by taking part in a Virtual Kiltwalk event by walking 50 miles on the Isle of Bute, helping to raise £1,500 which was topped up by Sir Tom Hunter through the Hunter Foundation to more than £3,000.

CHARITABLE causes were important to Ally who personally raised almost £50,000 in the past few years for charities such as Clic Sargent and the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity among others. Just weeks ago, he raised more than £4,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support with close friend Stuart Wilson as the surrogate runner in the Berlin Marathon.

Donald Martin, editor of The Herald and The Herald on Sunday, said: “Ally was the consummate professional. He was a great journalist. He knew a story, how to find it, and how to write it. It was typical of him that even towards the end he was still trying to dictate his last few columns from his hospital bed. He will be sorely missed.”

Jane Grant, chief executive of NHSGGC, described Ally as an important part of its senior team. She said: “We would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Ally McLaws following the sad news of his death.

“Ally was an important part of the senior team at NHSGGC, and as director of corporate communications he was a well-liked and respected manager.

“His death leaves a significant gap in the Scottish media world, and he will be missed by friends and colleagues alike.”

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