Tenants’ rights campaigner and winner of The Herald Society’s Unsung Hero award

Born: October 6, 1946;

Died: December 31, 2017

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ROBERT Calder MacPherson, who has died aged 71, was a campaigner whose commitment to help others, despite his own severely debilitating illness, won him The Herald Society’s Unsung Hero award.

To many of his friends and family he may still be remembered firstly as a charismatic publican but 20 years ago multiple sclerosis saw his life change in ways he could never have imagined. Instead of curbing his intentions however, the diagnosis merely set him on a different path.

In the face of his greatest challenge he became an influential campaigner and authoritative voice on inequality and injustice, on issues affecting tenants and the disabled, and worked for the greater good of Edinburgh. Throughout he maintained a common touch and sense of humour.

Even when the condition deprived him of the use of all his limbs, he continued to volunteer on the board of two organisations and to champion disability rights.

It was cathartic, he said: “It’s good for the soul – I feel I’m contributing, it keeps the head active!”

Born at Edinburgh’s Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, he grew up in Craigmillar and the Inch, attending Liberton High School where he captained the rugby team. A sporty youngster, he also played badminton and football, winning an under-18s trial for Scotland.

His father William worked for the Post Office, in charge of the messenger boys, and on leaving school his son followed him there, delivering telegrams on a pushbike and building an encyclopaedic knowledge of the capital’s streets. In his 20s, MacPherson began working in the pub trade before becoming a sales rep, through which he met his wife Susan, with whom he had two children.

By the late 1970s however, he was firmly set in the licensed trade, managing the Beau Brummel in Hanover Street, then Champagne Charlie’s in North Castle Street, before opening his own establishments – Blythe Spirit and La Coquette, both in Rose Street.

His diagnosis of multiple sclerosis came at the age of 48. By that time he and his wife had split, he was with a new partner, Rosaleen, and was running Dunedin private hire car firm. He then joined Scottish Golf and Travel and enjoyed guiding golfers on tours of Scotland and Ireland.

But as his health deteriorated he was forced to retire, wheelchair bound at 52. Undeterred, when he acquired a Lorne Housing Association flat, he volunteered to sit on its board, a post he held for 15 years, continuing in his position through its incorporation within Port of Leith Housing Association.

Among his contributions were his talks to local authority staff highlighting the service user’s point of view. More recently he was a board member of the association’s social enterprise, Quay Community Improvements. His work earned him the Unsung Hero award in November 2010 for his commitment to better housing and representing tenants.

He tackled his change in circumstances head on and was fond of visiting some of the city’s top restaurants. He also embraced technology, using a voice-activated computer plus an environmental control system to maintain some independence.

He is survived by his children Callum and Gemma, sister Bettany and three granddaughters.

ALISON SHAW