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Community / Tributes paid to ex-jarl Jim Coutts, who is remembered as ‘pretty much a genius’

1996 Lerwick Up-Helly Aaa Guizer Jarl Jim Coutts who died last week. Photo: John Coutts

FAMILY and friends were on Monday remembering the life of multi-talented former Lerwick Up Helly Aa Guizer Jarl Jim Coutts, who passed away at the age of 82 last week.

Those who knew Jim will remember a character who was “the heart and soul of every party”, an engineer by trade who was always helping other people to fix things, and a keen singer of country songs: “wherever he went the guitar went with him”, according to his son Ian.

He joined the UHA committee just over 40 years ago, enjoying his year in the spotlight as guizer jarl in 1996.

Fellow Ex Jarls Association member Peter Leask knew Jim all his life, describing him as a “first class engineer” who helped his bus company out with engineering work on countless occasions.

“When things got complicated and busy, Jim was the first port of call,” Peter said. “I got to know him better when we both joined the UHA committee on the same night in 1980. It’s been a lifelong thing.

“He was also very much into stationary engines, restoring them, anything to do with that – he was pretty much a genius to be honest! He’ll be a miss, certainly that.”

Another former jarl, Ronnie Gear, said Jim was the sort of man who could “turn his hand to most things – a very talented man. He was guizer jarl later in life whereas some of us were kinda younger, but he was always involved in torch-making”.

Ronnie said: “He took part in everything that had to be done – if the galley chassis had to be fixed he was the first guy there to fix it, that was just what he did.

“I’d not seen him for a peerie while, but [prior to his illness] one day you’d see him at the golf club fixing a buggy, the next day he’d be elsewhere fixing a boat. He was always there, that’s the kind of guy he was.”

Born at Victoria Cottage in Walls towards the end of the 1930s, Jim started his working life crofting on the Westside before going to the fishing for a year, leaving the industry after he and the crew of the Planet were shipwrecked at Fair Isle in 1955.

He then took up engineering, working for Bolts Garage for 12 years before securing a job with the US Coastguards at Scatsta – one of a network of stations the Americans used for navigation – where he remained for 15 years.

He also worked at Sella Ness for the Wood Group/Malakoff before spending more than a decade with BP at Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, with his final years of employment spent back at Sella Ness for the SIC’s ports and harbours operation.

Jim taught himself the guitar and was renowned throughout Shetland for performing country standards by the likes of Hank Williams: “He could play them all,” said Ian.

He had suffered poor health in the past few months after an oesophageal cancer, first discovered three years ago, returned. Having spent his life “always doing something”, Ian said his dad had found it difficult to cope when his health began to fail.

Social media pages have been awash with tributes since news of his passing emerged.

Jim’s three children – Ian, Anita Georgeson and Lyn Williamson – have set up a fundraiser in their dad’s memory for CLAN House in Aberdeen, which they said was “absolutely amazing for dad when he had to travel to Aberdeen for various treatments”.

It has already raised almost £4,500 in donations from 168 people in the space of five days. You can donate to their appeal here.