28 May 2014
On Friday afternoon I felt that dull thud of shock in the stomach that you get when a piece of news catches you unprepared. We had just finished a lunchtime session with the Indonesian ambassador and I was briefly told that the Mackintosh building was on fire.
Only last month I had represented the Chamber in celebrating the opening of the Art School's new Reid building. It was a chaotic, joyful and spectacular occasion, perfectly pitched to mark the new arrival. Muriel Gray in her role as the Chair of the Board of Governors joined in with the choir singing an anthem written specially for the day.
Much has already been said about the importance of the Mackintosh, the horror at the loss of the library and the relief at how much has been saved. And here at the Chamber we share in the emotions expressed at an event that threatened one of Glasgow's crown jewels.
But I wanted to say just how much I admired the way Muriel handled what was plainly one of the most traumatic experiences of her professional life. Her entirely human reaction on arriving to see the fire itself, her explanations of the unfolding event throughout the weekend and the message of praise for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were exemplary. I shall long remember the sheer relief on her face when the extent of the damage turned out to be less severe than originally feared. She certainly helped me to understand exactly what was happening. She is of course a first class communicator but, boy, did that communication come from the heart.
And I was equally pleased to see the Art School launching a public appeal in support of the Mackintosh restoration. Of course both Scottish and UK Governments have made the right decision to offer financial support; the Mackintosh is an asset of such importance that it deserves no less. But I suspect there will be members of the public right across the world who will want to make their own contribution. We couldn't help put out the fire. We didn't need to, as we clearly have an excellent fire service. But we can help in the restoration. And as Muriel said of what was lost, including the library, that the materials may have gone but the precious design remains and can be reinstated.
Now we can all be involved in bringing the Mackintosh fully back to life.