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Obituary: Leslie Cumming

16 March 15

The "go-to" man who defined the role of Society chief accountant

by Douglas Mill

Very sadly, Les Cumming died of cancer last month at the age of 71. He deserved a longer retirement. His funeral at Warriston, Edinburgh, was well attended, by family, friends, solicitors, past Presidents and former colleagues at the Society. It was a lovely event, which he himself would have enjoyed.

He was a proud son of Cromdale who, after schooling at Falkirk and Dunfermline High Schools, went to study chemistry at university. Eventually he settled on accountancy as a career, and after other postings arrived at Drumsheugh Gardens in 1984.

To say that Les Cumming’s job was as chief accountant of the Society does not remotely do him justice. He WAS the chief accountant. He defined the role. He grew it, developed it and lived and breathed it. It’s not just that he was good at it – he was it.

His 22 years in the post saw a period of improvement and development in the Society’s inspection regime. He led in these areas to the extent that he and the Society were openly acknowledged as leading-edge in their approach to financial compliance. Our Guarantee Fund under his stewardship was the envy of other jurisdictions. Les was the “go-to” man.

He had an exceptional feel for his work, and the important sense that very few solicitors were bad, and others were merely sad and in need of guidance. Famously, when he knocked on a solicitor’s door and said he was here to help, he was. Those who worked with him knew the quiet, solid worth of his work.

And if all that makes him sound serious and one-dimensional, nothing could be further from the truth. A great family man, he and Ann were proud of their three children and many grandchildren. A DIY fanatic, and enthusiastic but all too occasional golfer, Les had, once you tuned into it, for such a private man, a brilliant sense of humour. And especially irony.

I have a particularly fond memory of a call I got from him from Dundee, where he had gone to lecture on fraud and theft to the local faculty.

“How did it go, Les?” I enquired.
“Fine, Douglas. Just one problem. I’ll not make it back till later. While I was lecturing, someone stole my car.”

What happened to him in 2006, by which time he had been promoted to the role of deputy CEO, was appalling. Even by the standards of the time, when what we were learning to call Civic Scotland was declaring open season on solicitors and the Society, the attack was shocking. I still have a feeling of unreality about it all. Les’s fortitude got him through. Weaker men would have crumbled. The family and colleagues, particularly George Samson, rallied. The police were wonderful. The plastic surgeons incredible. Some price to pay for being good at your job.

After leaving Drumsheugh Gardens, Les characteristically threw himself into other ventures and made them a success. His many years of Society experience were then available to the profession. His was a life well lived. A full, giving life which deserved to be longer. The tone of the service was not maudlin – it celebrated rather than mourned Les.

You find out things about people at their funerals. Who would have thought he was a Phil Collins fan?

Douglas Mill 

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