Gordon Baxter - The King of Soup City
From Ben Fox
Cricket Scotland Patron, Mr William Gordon Baxter CBE DL has just reached his 95th birthday, so we made the trip north to meet him!
Back in 1868, George Baxter borrowed just enough money from his uncle to open a small grocery shop in the village. As the business evolved through the decades it was eventually handed down to Gordon Baxter - He, his wife Ena and brother Ian, got together with an old soup pan, skirtle and made cock-a-leekie soup.
Since 1947, when Gordon assumed control, he has regularly brushed aside numerous buy-out offers from giants like General Foods, Campbell and H.J. Heinz. What attracts these multinationals is not so much the size of the operation that has made Baxters the envy of the soup giants, but the quality. “There are two soup companies in this world, the big one, Heinz, and the good one, Baxters”.
On entering his office, his passions are immediately identifiable by a scan of the walls- fishing, soup, Fochabers, family and cricket; not in that particular order it should be added.
Gordon Baxter was made a Commander of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace in 2010 for his work in business and charity in the north-east. He became Cricket Scotland Patron in 2006 and has been influential in brokering sponsorship deals.
Along with his many business contacts, Gordon has a plethora of good friends in the cricketing world; he often receives visits from Allan Lamb, Sir Ian Botham and Matthew Hayden, who all enjoy his company on the banks of the Spey, searching for the famous salmon that run the river.
He is no stranger to travel, however having travelled the world as an MCC member to follow both Scotland and England.
A look through a book of his cricket-related press cuttings reveals all the great cricketing causes Gordon has been involved in. A photograph of him with former England captain Mike Deness draws the observation, “Oh yes, he’s my pal, his mother came from here, he knows Fochabers well.”
“In 1972/73 we went to Australia. I composed him a telegram in my office before we departed, ‘Mike, the Baxters are coming to Australia, you’ve already lost 3 tests, so you had better win one for us when we get there.’
“Before the match I was invited down to witness the players having their breakfast before the Royal Victorian Police Pipe Band played “A Gordon For Me”, as the teams came out onto the MCG pitch in front of 80,000 people, and sure enough Mike Denness scored 188 that day. After the game he came and found us in the crowd, he said ‘Gordon, we won this match for you.’
“Afterwards, I encouraged Mike to bring the Kent side up to play Scotland at Castle Park, Fochabers. The Kent boys stayed in local private houses - they had Allan Knott, Colin Cowdrey and Bob Woolmer in their ranks.
“On the first day, Scotland beat the touring Kent side, so I took them fishing on the second. Bob Woolmer bagged a 10, 16 and then a 26 pounder to make up for the 1 run he had scored the previous day.
That evening, the visitors held an evening at the Gordon Arms for their local hosts. The entire Kent team had been kitted out with kilts by the locals and everyone had a whale of a time.
A number of years later I spoke to Bob Woolmer during a test match at Lord’s, ‘Gordon, as a professional cricket team we have been given free cars, flights, dinner receptions, but those three days in Fochabers was the best tour Kent had ever made.’ There’s nothing like a personal touch’ he said with a satisfied smile.
It’s this personal touch that has allowed Gordon Baxter to influence so many lives; he is adored around the north-east for his wonderful character, drive and passion which are seen as an inspiration to those who meet him.
He leaned forward,” You know, Baxters sell 247,000 cans of soup a day.” That’s a lot of soup! “Aye, but I’m still nae rich!”
“I’m proud when people tell me Baxters have had an impact in other people’s lives in a positive way” Since retiring, he has established the Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation, distributing more than £650,000 to projects across the area- one of his main focusses is providing the Moray cricket clubs with an improved facility at Gordonstoun, that is accessible to all those playing the game up north.
What’s evident is he’s a local loon with local roots, treated to a cricket education by his uncles, Gordon and George who represented the Fochabers Championship winning team of 1906. This evidences the cricketing impact the Baxters have had on the rich history of the game in the north – in much the same way their soup has impacted on the world!