Church elder and MSP dies aged 55
Published on 7 December, 2016
A Church of Scotland elder who served as a member of the Scottish Parliament for 17 years has died.
Alex Johnstone, who belonged to Glenbervie Church in Aberdeenshire, passed away peacefully after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 55.
Rev Douglas Lamb, who has provided locum cover at the church, said the Conservative politician’s death following a short illness was a “big loss” to the local community and wider north-east region he represented.
The retired minister said he knew Mr Johnstone, who is survived by his wife Linda, two children and six grandchildren, for many years and had a very high regard for him.
“Alex was a solid fellow and very down to earth - a real country chap,” added Mr Lamb.
"He was extremely proud to be a Church of Scotland elder.
“I visited him twice in hospital and he had a marvellous spirit, was full of faith and fortitude and even joked a bit.
“At the end of the visits we prayed together.
"Alex or Alec as I used to call him, to which he joked 'I am a Tory, I have been called worse', was a very principled man with a lot of integrity
"He had good sense of humour and will be a big loss."
Born in Kincardineshire in 1961 and educated at Mackie Academy in Stonehaven, Mr Johnstone spent his entire life in the north east of Scotland, where he built a successful career as a self-employed dairy and arable farmer.
His family have been actively involved in Glenbervie Church, which is now part of West Mearns Church, for many years.
Mr Johnstone's mother Helen is a former session clerk and served as clerk to the congregational board for around 50 years.
A true Christian
Members of Glenbervie Church have paid tribute to Mr Johnstone, who was fondly known as Big Eck or AJ at Holyrood.
A statement read: “Alex Johnstone was an elder for more than 25 years and a real gent who was always willing to help anyone.
“He was a very hard working person whether it was in his role as a farmer or an MSP.
“He was a loving father, grandfather and a very caring son.
“Being a busy MSP, Alex did not have time to come to Glenbervie Church often but he showed his face in the way he treated people and the way he lived his life.
“He was a true Christian person who had a gift for listening to people and coming up with practical solutions to problems.”
Elected at the age of 38 in 1999, Mr Johnstone immediately brought his considerable experience in Scotland’s rural economy to the parliament, initially as its first ever convener of the rural development committee.
In 2001, he was appointed as the Scottish Conservatives’ chief whip and business manager, serving on the Parliament’s business bureau.
In the last parliament, he served on the Parliament’s welfare reform committee. He was also appointed the party’s spokesman for infrastructure, housing and transport, a role he continued after May’s election.
In the most recent session of parliament, Mr Johnstone was deputy convener of the finance committee and a member of the parliament's corporate body.
Respected and admired
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Alex’s passing is an enormous loss for the Scottish Conservative party, for the Scottish Parliament, and for Scottish public life generally.
“He was a big man with a big heart.
“He embodied politics at its best: trenchant in his views, always up for a political fight, but respected and admired by all sides of the political divide for his decency and generosity.
“The north east of Scotland could not have had a greater friend over the 17 years he served as their MSP.
“He was utterly devoted to championing the area.”
Mr Johnstone was highly regarded across the political spectrum and by the media at Holyrood.
He will be fondly remembered for his friendly nature, booming laugh, quick wit, tough debating style and thumping his desk in the debating chamber while uttering 'hear, hear' when he heard something he agreed with.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "so sorry" to hear the news.
"Alex never let political differences stand in the way of friendship and courtesy,” she added.
"Alex was an asset to his party and to the Scottish Parliament.
“He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family and friends."
Legacy of goodwill
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: "Alex had a reputation around the Scottish Parliament as a great character.
“When our politics can feel divided, he was always quick to inject some much needed humour.
"Alex was a politician respected across the chamber, and I hope his legacy is one of goodwill in our politics."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Alex looked like a big Tory bruiser but he was actually a kind and gentle man who I both admired and liked.”