March 31, 2008

Ronnie Lawrie, 1927-2008

Ronald Lawrie, one of the 20th century’s greatest solo and band pipers, died on March 26, 2008, in his home town of Oban, Scotland, in his eighty-first year. He had been in declining health for some time.

Funeral services will be at St. Columba’s Cathedral in Oban at 10 am, Friday March 28th.

Affectionately known in the piping scene as “Big Ronnie,” the 6′ 7″ Lawrie was the son of the famous piper Angus Lawrie. Young Ronnie started on the pipes at the age of seven, originally taught by Pipe-Major Willie Ross of the Scots Guards when Ross would visit Oban. Ronnie Lawrie went on to receive instruction from the Blind Piper, Archie MacNeill, and Robert Reid, who set him up for a great solo career.

In 1961 Ronnie Lawrie won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering playing “The MacDougalls’ Gathering.” He also gained, among many other big prizes, the March at Oban in 1953 and the Argyllshire Gathering Former Winners MSR in 1957 and 1960. When Ronnie Lawrie moved to Glasgow his massive stature made him a natural to join the police. He became a member of the Glasgow Police and of course played in the band under Pipe-Major John MacDonald, whom he succeeded in 1967. During Ronnie Lawrie’s six years as Pipe-Major of the band, he won most of the major championships, and placed as high as second at the World Pipe Band Championships until he was succeeded by Iain MacLellan.

After his competitive days, Ronnie Lawrie committed himself to teaching and judging, and was a common sight behind the bench of the world’s most prestigious solo events. He frequently traveled to North America to conduct summer schools and adjudicate, and his last trip was in 2000 to judge the Piobaireachd Society (Canada) Gold Medal competitions and the North American Championships in Maxville, Ontario. In 1987 he surprised the piping world by coming out of competitive retirement to take over the Grade 1 Polkemmet Grorud Pipe Band after the departure of Pipe-Major Robert Mathieson.

Although Lawrie led the band for only a year, he maintained its Grade 1 standard, winning several prizes during the season, setting up for his successor, Davey Barnes. Known for an uncannily dry and quick wit, Ronnie Lawrie was loved by all who knew him.

He was one of the piping world’s most celebrated characters and players and he will be missed. Our condolences go out to Ronnie Lawrie’s family and friends at this sad time.


  1. What a sad day for piping. big Ronnie Lawrie was among the first of the top” people I met on my first trip to Scotland 29 years ago. He always gave me the utmost respect and his time always and was a pleasure to talk to. If he was judging that day

  2. As a great friend of my Dad’s Ronnie was aways on the phone, more often than not with a funny story to tell. Ronnie was a gentleman and a very good friend. He will be much missed by our family.

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting him 5 years ago, while visiting friends in Oban. What a wonderful person and what wonderful stories. He and I are the same height, so we shared great experiences about playing through doorways wearing feather bonnets! He will be missed.

  4. As Jim says he had a look that could frighten children, but he never did. Ronnie was passionately enthusiastic about teaching kids piping and always made time for youngsters whatever their standard. He would agonise for ages over getting the prize list right at kids competitions and was ever ready with constructive comments and support. I’ve known Big Ronnie for 30 years since i was a kid competing in juniors through to playing in senior events. He never changed, always helpful, and i’ve never met anyone else with his enthusiasm for every facet of piping. I’ll miss him a lot but Piping will surely miss him more.

  5. Big Ronald was a wonderful, funny, and warm man. When I was a lad of 8 or 9 he used to joke with me and ask me to help him tune is drones which were feet beond my reach. He spent countless hours in California, and home in Scotland when I visited helping me on my piping journey. We met at the College of Piping when it was held in Pebble Beach California in 1979 I believe along with Seamus McNeil and Arthur Gillies. Over the next 20 years I was able to spend time in each of their homes as a student and ultimately a friend. Ronnie was and always will be one of my favorite figures in piping . Big Ronald personally went out to pick out a fine set of bagpipes and brought them to me at the California School in Santa Cruz where he was an instructor. I am and will always be very honored that he chose to do that for me. Eventually I was able to instruct at the College of Piping when it was held in Idlewild Ca. Ronnie was very proud of my journey and I very very proud to call myself one of his students . God bless Big Ronald.



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