James Dick

James Dick was born in 1823 in Soulis Street, Kilmarnock, and had 4 brothers and sisters. The family was poor, but when James Dick died in 1902 he left an estate of over £1,000,000, an enormous amount of money at the time. From humble beginnings James, and his brother Robert, became businessmen of world-wide importance. Their hugely successful business, R. and J. Dick, revolved around the production of drive-belts for industrial machinery, using the rubber-like substance balata.

James in particular was keen to give something back, and was latterly known as a philanthropist and benefactor to a variety of good causes. For  Kilmarnock, his most important gift was that he paid for the town's new museum, art gallery and library, opened in 1901.  The Dick Institute, which continues to be one of the most important cultural facilities in South-West Scotland, was named for James' brother Robert, who had died in 1891. James also donated Cathkin Braes to Glasgow, the Dick Wing of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and on his death his business was bequeathed to 14 of his higher-ranking employees. 

On an interesting personal note, James Dick married his devoted assistant Kate MacDonald in 1885. She travelled the world with him as he visited some of his overseas investments (including gold and silver mines). James was 62, Kate was in her 30s. After she became a widow in 1902, Kate went on to marry David Mackay. Mackay had been instrumental in persuading James Dick to pay for Kilmarnock's new museum, as he was Town Treasurer and later the Provost of Kilmarnock. He had been an active supporter of free access for all to art, literature and education, believing that exposure to the finer things in life would benefit and uplift his townsfolk. It is said that James Dick received Mackay's letter on the same day that one of his mines had struck-it-rich, and was happy to pay. 

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