This summer has been a memorable one for Chicago Scots President and CEO, Gus Noble, filled with celebrations and sorrows.
Just a few weeks before heading overseas to be among those honored as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), Noble’s father, Bob, 80, passed away June 11 back in Scotland.
“He was my best friend,” Noble said.
Now, after a whirlwind month-and-a-half of events and emotions, Noble said his mentor, friend and father figure here in the Chicago area, former Chicago Scots President, Wayne Rethford, 90, passed away the afternoon of July 31 at the Scottish Home (Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care) in North Riverside.
“Whenever I found myself in times of trouble, Wayne was there, not to offer advice, but with a calming hand on my shoulder,” Noble said.
What’s helping Noble through these times has been the support he finds from family and the extended family that is the Chicago Scots community.
When recalling his journey to receive the OBE, Noble noted that his father had been gravely ill and on his deathbed about 12 months or so before he passed, but took what seemed to be a remarkable turn for the better.
“We had a bonus year with him,” Noble said.
That meant more trips than usual back and forth between Chicago and Duns to spend time with his father and mother. Despite losing both legs, Noble said his father remained a great storyteller.
His father has also been a musician, writer, performer and expert in agriculture who served as Secretary of the Borders National Farmers Union in the early 2000s.
Noble said his father helped guide the farming community in Scotland through the hoof-and-mouth disease crisis of 2001. For that effort and his overall assistance to farming, Noble said his father was awarded the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) 20 years ago – a ceremony he witnessed with his mother, Joan.
Noble was recognized for 17-years of service to Scottish culture in the United States and his leadership of Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the above, Noble said being honored on July 5 brought the moment full circle for him. In fact, he was going to bring his father, his mother, and wife, Aisha, with him to the OBE ceremony at Holyroodhouse. Instead, in place of his father, he brought his eldest son, Robert, along.
“He’s named after his grandfather and after (the poet) Robert Burns,” Noble said. “I joked that they wouldn’t have to reprint the invitation by me bringing along my son.”
Leaving youngest son, Langston, with other family members to attend the investiture, Noble said he only learned that Charles III, who had been crowned King of the United Kingdom in May, would be overseeing the proceedings when he saw the program that day.
“I was surprised,” Noble said.
He also felt as if the spirit of his father in his heart, as his father also had received his honor from then-Prince Charles After being briefed on the protocols for the ceremony, where groups of people were brought before Charles by the honor by which they would get, Noble had his own brief moment before the monarch.
“It was surreal. I felt like I was watching myself from the ceiling,” Noble said.
He recalled telling Charles about Caledonia Senior Living, the related Chicago St. Andrew Society being the oldest registered charity in Illinois, the home’s setting and how the home weathered the pandemic better than most facilities of its kind.
Noble said he mentioned to Charles that Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, had given money to build a wing at Caledonia, which most likely was the first time a charity outside the UK had been given such a donation by the royal family.
He recalled telling Charles about his father and about bringing his son to the investiture.
“He told me I have a wonderful looking boy,” Noble said.
Charles also told Noble to give his regards once back in Chicago the staff at Caledonia Senior Living – which he did.
“I felt proud, and thought, I am the son of Bob Noble. Nothing could make me prouder,” Noble said.
Noble’s day wasn’t done, though. After having ceremonial photos taken, he and others headed to the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh where Charles received the Honours of Scotland, signifying the presence of the monarch and Scotland’s acceptance of his power of Parliament.
They made their way through a crowd of people, including some protesting, calling for the end of the monarchy and Scotland’s independence.
“It was a hectic scene,” Noble said.
At the cathedral, Noble sat with Missy MacLeod, whose husband, Rev. Calum MacLeod, had invited Noble to the crowning as a representative of the Scots in the United States.
The minister had served for a time on the Chicago Scots board while attending to his duties overseeing the 4th Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Noble said, and is now the minister at St. Giles.
Of the ceremony, Noble said guests had to be at the cathedral 90 minutes in advance, where they heard musicians play a variety of styles, from classical to Celtic.
“There was a lot of pomp and ceremony, like I had never seen before,” Noble said.
Afterward, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men flew by,” Nobel said. He and the MacLeod’s took phone photos by the Stone of Destiny, headed to MacLeod’s office, then to a pub for some whisky and haggis.
Adding to the dreamlike quality of the day, Noble said, was that the Uber driver he hailed for a ride back to Duns turned out to be a former childhood friend.
Once back in his hometown, Noble and family prepared for his father’s funeral on July 7. While Noble gave a eulogy at the service, at the crematorium later that day, at the request of his mother, he gave an impromptu speech, raw and from the heart.
“We Scots are known for our stoicism, but I go to the back of the line for that. I let my feelings show,” Noble said.
The family and the town of Dun celebrated Robert Noble’s life on July 9, which would have been his birthday, once again adding a certain strange symmetry to Gus Noble’s summer.
Before heading to Chicago, Noble took his wife for her birthday and a slightly late wedding anniversary celebration to Wimbledon in London to watch the tennis tournament.
Now, with all that behind him, Noble and others are preparing to remember the life of Wayne Rethford.
“The last six weeks or so have been tough, but I am honoring Wayne and my father by moving forward,” Noble said.
Providing inspiration for his perseverance has been a culminating moment at the Chicago Scots Highland Games at Scottish Festival June 17, less than a week after his father died.
That evening, at the end of the mass gathering of bands and clans, 1,000 or so pipers played “Amazing Grace.”
“I can cry when I hear one piper, so this really brought a lump to my throat,” Noble said.
With his two sons each hugging his legs, Noble took in the scene and savored the support to be found in the Scottish community and through the legacy of the Illinois St. Andrew Society, which was founded in 1845 in Chicago.
“That moment captured the home, family and love that is community,” Noble said.