By Robert Wallace
It is with sincere regret that I report the passing of Tommy Johnston, one of the great characters of pipe band drumming and piping, much loved father of Finlay and joint proprietor of world famous reedmaking company Pipe Dreams.
Tommy passed away in hospital last night after a short illness aged only 65. His loss will be felt by all who knew him and his hundreds of friends throughout the piping and pipe band community.
Over several years we travelled together to schools in North America to teach in New England and Florida. To be in his company was a constant joy. He was entertaining, welcoming, humorous. The students loved him and he in turn could not do enough for them.
Behind the personable manner was knowledge and skill, supreme in his chosen fields. His understanding of the human condition bred a genuine humility and humanity. We who knew him are distressed at his passing, but thankful for every moment of shared time.
His business partner Ronnie MacShannon: ‘Tommy was a dear friend to me over four decades and an astute business partner for 23 years. He was popular with everyone and we will all miss him dearly.’
Tommy began his drumming in Northern Ireland in Field Marshal Montgomery when they were in Grade 2 after being taught by Kit Reynolds. He played with some of the best corps in the world: Lothian & Boirders under Bob Montgomery, B Cal with Alex Duthart, and was placed fifth in the World Solos in the mid 70s.
He began his apprenticeship as a toolmaker in his father’s business in Northern Ireland and on moving to Scotland in the 1970s became an engineering technician with the BBC. Moving into management he became head of his department and was eventually poached by broadcasting rivals STV to head up their engineering unit in Glasgow.
Whilst still there he started Pipe Dreams with Ronnie, this in 1997. Such was the success of their products that he was able to go full time in the business and it blossomed into the world’s leading reedmaking company with most of the tools designed and made by Tommy himself.
On the pipe band front Tommy won the World Corps Championship with the British Caledonian Airways Renfrew band and it was here that he met his beloved wife Anne, a famous piper in her own right.
Later their son Finlay was born. Finlay, taught by Ronnie, is one of the leading pipers in the world and the current holder of the Glenfiddich Championship.
Tommy, never one to boast, was deeply proud of both Anne and Finlay’s success as pipers, yet he had to be coaxed to speak of his own successful career playing with greats such as Alex Duthart, Harry McNulty, Hugh MacInnes, Eric Ward, John Scullion and Joe Noble.
My personal sympathy to Anne and Finlay at this time. Readers who would like to leave a similar message of condolence please do so below in our comment section.