Standing in heroically at a few hours’ notice after ill-health prevented our booked speaker from attending, Joe Goldblatt told our February lunch that while travelling from his native USA to take up a post in Scotland during the banking crisis in 2007, he passed through Oxford where he encountered the leader of England’s leading tourism agency. Pushing his chair back in astonishment at Joe’s destination, the man asked if Joe was aware that the people of Scotland wanted independence – “they’re too small, poor and stupid” he declared. It was at that moment when Joe realised he would fit in exactly to life here.

A mime artist whose dance with Betty Ford got him captioned as Goldballs in the press, while living in Washington he signed up for juggling lessons, where he encountered a beautifully made-up artiste named Nancy – now his wife of 45 years with whom he has two sons.  Delivering live elephants to Central Hall fell foul of his lack of a permit, but he promised to do better next time. From performing he migrated to organising events, clients including the Reagans and Oprah Winfrey: and having hopped off en route from Texas for a sight of the Old Ophry at Nashville where he was obliged to stay in a down and outs’ hotel he returned later for inauguration of a new Civic Centre to learn from the Mayor that it stood on the same site.   

Encountering a seedy Father Christmas, he urged creation of a University of the North Pole to turn out proper Santas, and when a little boy identified him beneath his long red coat and white beard, he declared that Santa was a state of mind, an opportunity to show kindness.  Son Max was evidently impressed by this foray into events management, for he followed in his dad’s footsteps as an actor and now a theatre manager in New York City.

Getting a call from Queen Margaret University, he was asked to take part in a teleconference where all three interviewers were Glaswegian and he didn’t understand a word that they said. Nevertheless, he must have made the right impression, and soon Nancy was asking could they afford a house in Scotland and would they find any Jewish ambience there – fortunately he was able to persuade her that Edinburgh was virtually Tel-Aviv – while his sons told him that if they didn’t move there he would never be forgiven.  The challenge of the US and Scotland being divided by a common language would continue when, impressed by a hotel carpet, he asked whether someone could give him a shag and was assured that this was not that kind of place!

Canvassing for the SNP at Haddington a month before the independence referendum, Joe was told that he was a Communist and had a leaflet crumpled in his face, to which his fellow canvassers responded by giving chase and shouting “you can’t do that to him”, words spoken thus that made this new Scot realise that he was now taken for a Scot. But political involvement had already run in his family, his father having reacted to defeat when running for Dallas City Council because the poll was city-wide by going to court to obtain a ruling that there should be local constituencies. Thus encouraged, Dad ran for Mayor, undeterred by having little money compared to the incumbent and coming close because what he lacked in funding he made up for in imagination.

Al Gore’s defeat was an introduction for Joe to electoral unfairness, but hailed by a reporter as a firefly he relishes the difference that he has made coming from the USA to Scotland, where he feels that with every day our hopes rise higher. Meanwhile he is intrigued by many things in his adopted home – e.g. was St David’s Street really named after David Hume, an atheist, and why the name Salisbury Crags?  Father of geology James Hutton declared his findings about the origins of the Earth indicative of no vestige of a beginning – no prospect of an end, and that sounds like the journey of the Saltire Society. The legacy of Jane Haining is for Joe a link between Scotland and his origins, and like Burns he shelters in our country’s honoured shade.

took place on Saturday 12 February 2022.