GRAMPIAN HOUSTON EXCHANGE VISITS
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2004 Silver Jubilee Exchange Visit to Aberdeen

      Perhaps the most special exchange visit that we ever experienced was this one, to celebrate our Silver Anniversary as Sister Cities - 25 years since we organized and began this relationship.

     We began arriving at Aberdeen Airport at 10 AM on Tuesday, the 31st of August and continued as others arrived on later flights, and each flight was met by a group of hosts to be sure we were transported to the Copthorne Hotel in Aberdeen, our headquarters for the week. We were made to feel as if the hotel and indeed, all of Aberdeen were dedicated to our visit and to be sure we enjoyed every minute of it.

     After a "free" afternoon, the festivities began with a reception and buffet in the ballroom of the hotel. This reception was sponsored by the hotel and in fact, each event we attended was sponsored by some member or members of Grampian-Houston. We were welcomed at the reception by David Paton O.B.E., Honorary President of GHA.This set the tone for our visit and created great expectations of the events of the week, and they were all surpassed.

     Wednesday, September 1, was a huge day for us. It began with a prompt departure for a wonderful sight-seeing city tour on Peace Coaches, who transported us to each and every event. Our escorts and guides for this morning were Margaret and Geoff Hadley, who did a splendid job of narrating our tour. This excellent but quick view of Aberdeen took us, among other places, to historic St. Machar's Cathedral and to Kings College, where Bita Kakebeeke graduated.

     At 11 AM, we arrived at Duthie Park to see the Rose Mountain, covered with 120,000 roses and to tour the David Welch Winter Gardens where our Silver Jubilee celebration would take place. It was in the Arid House there that we celebrated the unveiling of the Silver Jubilee commemorative plaque by Lord Provost John M. Reynolds J.P. On hand, in addition to our group, were media representatives who provided excellent coverage of this landmark occasion, both on television and in the newspaper.  

For photos and a narrative of the Silver Jubilee ceremony, click SILVER JUBILEE.

     Following our memorable celebration, we departed Duthie Park for the Holiday Inn, Bridge of Don, which provided and sponsored a delicious lunch for us. Following lunch, we walked next door, to the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre to hear a briefing on the local economy by Rita Stephen, Head of Economic Development for the Aberdeen City Council, and then went on to the Northern Light Tower at the Exhibition and Conference Centre for a bird's eye view of Aberdeen. We returned to the hotel to rest up for the spectacular evening that awaited us.

     For the evening, we were the guests of Lord Provost John Reynolds J.P. and the members of the Aberdeen City Council at a civic reception pictured above, and a gourmet dinner at the Aberdeen Town House. We were escorted to this event by Jean Cameron and Marlene and Ian McLeod. City Councillors sat at each table to visit with us and we were entertained by students from the Aberdeen City Music School based at Dyce Academy, pictured at the left. The head table is picured below with HGA members Mary Metz, John and Jane Fowler, Lord Provost John Reynolds and Grampian-Houston dignitaries. Remarks were made by Jimmy Hay, Chairman of GHA, and by the Lord Provost and by John Fowler.

     Not to let any grass grow under our feet, our escorts for Thursday, Andrew and Katie Lewis, Bill and Doreen Gordon, and Alex Masson had us on the coach and on the road by 9 AM. We drove through the Grampian countryside to the Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown for a guided tour to see single malt whiskey made and bottled. Yep, we sampled it too. From there we drove to Ballindalloch Castle in the Spey Valley for lunch and a personal tour by Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell, Laird of Ballindalloch and her husband, Oliver Russell, who was attired in custom-made Justin cowboy boots.

     Ballindalloch Castle is open to the public for tours, but in our case, this was the sharing of their home by the Russells, as they live there and manage the business of the estate, which includes the original herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle in the world. It is a splendid castle and has been home to the Macpherson-Grants since 1546. As part of the castle tour, we also toured the rock garden and rose garden. The Russells spent considerable time with us sharing the history of the castle and of their family, and they were indeed, most personable and gracious hosts. On the journey back to the hotel, we stopped at the Forbes Arms Hotel, Bridge of Alford for Scottish High Tea, a lovely and delicious event sponsored by Douglas Craig and The Craig Group. Our group is shown below with the Laird on the lawn in front of the castle.

     Friday morning signalled the time to do business and we had a joint Board meeting of GHA and HGA, at which we discussed our opportunities and challenges and also the next exchange visit of the Grampians to Houston, which will occur sometime in 2006. Of note was a good discussion of our areas of common interests to identify new venues to use for the launch of joint activities. Some 12 areas of common interest were identified, and an early priority will be given to horticulture. Aberdeen's Duthie Park, with it's lovely roses and other floral areas was the place for our silver jubilee celebration, and Houston has similar areas, such as the arboretum on Memorial Drive and the Rose Garden at Hermann Park, which might be approached to become an area of involvement of our two organizations. Below, gathered for a group photo, are members of the combined boards of directors of GHA and HGA.

     Following the joint Board meeting we were taken to the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS), Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Foresthill, to hear presentations by their medical staff about their reasearch activities to bring modern molecular and cellular technologies to bear on investigations of disease processes and to carry the results forward into clinical practice.We split into groups in order to tour their most impressive facilities. Our escorts for this event were Margaret Hadley, Jimmy Hay, Jean Cameron and Bill Gordon. IMS arose from a fundamental re-structuring of biomedical research groups to maximize the research opportunities arising from partnership in one of the largest teaching hospital sites in Europe.We were astounded at the accomplishments in medicine of this facility and the many pioneering initiatives it has launched. A lovely lunch buffet was provided at the Medical Institute, and sponsored by Professor C.Duncan Rice, Principal.To learn more about IMS, just click the photo above.

     Following an afternoon in which we were free to rest, golf, shop or to relax in any way we wanted, we convened our Silver Jubilee Formal Dinner at the Copthorne. It was an event for formal Highland dress and was a celebration of our years together in a royal manner. We began the evening with a cocktail reception sponsored by Stewart and Joy Gordon. At the dinner, we had an opportunity to meet the young artist winner from Aberdeen, Terry Morton, from Lossiemouth High school, who was the first student ever to place in this competition. He is shown at the left with Bita Kakebeeke and Bob Davidson, and you can see his painting by just clicking the photo.

     Our speakers at the dinner were Jimmy Hay, Chairman of GHA and our own President, John Fowler, and appropriate toasts were made and gifts given to express the mutual good feelings between our organizations. Very enjoyable entertainment was presented by a husband and wife team called Cantando. Their appearance was sponsored by Graeme Wilson M.B.E. and in addition to entertaining, they also provided music for dancing. The evening ended as the group formed a circle, joined hands and in our long-standing tradition, sang Auld Lang Syne.

     If one thought the formal dinner would end the week, one would be quite wrong. At 9 AM Saturday morning we were up and at it again, as our escorts Mary Michie, Bill and Doreen Gordon and Bill Neish had us on the go again. We should add that John and Mary Michie were the gracious sponsors of our coach travel. We departed for the Highland Games at the Braemar Gathering, but first stopped off at Ballater and visited the Old Royal Station to see the Queen Victoria Waiting Room and to shop and have refreshments. From Ballater it was on to Braemar, where we first had lunch at the Gathering Place Bistro, with Graeme Wilson as our luncheon sponsor. A favorite and tasty item on the menu was Caroline Hadley Smith's Cous Cous salad, and due to requests for the recipe, we have it for you if you will click on COUS COUS RECIPE.

     Following the delicious lunch, we entered the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, and were treated to great entertainment by 12 pipe bands, including the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas from Nepal pictured on the right, and delightful Highland dance competition shown left. The pipe bands performed individually and also together as a group, led by the striking 6' 6" Drum Major Dick Hamilton of the Tayside Police shown in the photo above. The independent Kingdom of Nepal is the home of the famous Gurkha soldiers who have fought so fiercely for Britain since 1815. On hand also were international athletes to compete in "heavy" and "track" events. Her Majesty The Queen was present, enjoying the games and, pictured on the left, presenting awards to the winners following the competition. She was accompanied by Prince Philip and Prince Charles and an entourage of royalty and security and looked radiant, obviously enjoying the day immensely.

     As if the day had not already been packed with sufficient activities, we were invited to be the dinner guests of Juliette and David Paton at Grandhome House. At the door, we were met by their sweet dogs, checking us out and being sure we were worthy of entering. We were treated to a cocktail reception and a delicious buffet dinner and got to roam around the Paton's wonderful home and to take in it's rich history. It has been the home of David's family since the 1650s and was an incredible treat to behold. David "held court" in the historic library and acquainted us with the history of the house and family as we made our way there in small groups. He is pictured on the left with a group. Lord and Lady Provost Reynolds were on hand with us and our escorts were Alex McLean and Jean Cameron.

     Of course there had to be a final day of activities, but it was indeed a fine day and one worthy of the finale of our visit with our dear friends in Aberdeen. We departed the hotel at 10:30 AM on Sunday to visit a 3500 year-old recumbent stone circle, Bronze Age burial ground and sacred precinct at Loanhead of Daviot, near Inverurie. The Grampian Region has the world's greatest configuration of pre-historic and early historic stones, carved art and clusters of ancient settlements. The Loanhead of Daviot site is regarded as the classic surviving recumbent circle because of its preservation and excellent presentation. David Paton was our guide for this venture and is also the Chairman of Friends of Grampian Stones. We were escorted by Heather Anderson, Jimmy Hay, and both David and Juliette Paton. In the photo, you can see members of our group viewing the stone circle.

     Onward then, to our final event which was a Burns Lunch at the Meldrum House Hotel, Oldmeldrum. The Aberdeenshire Council hosted a champagne reception, and Aberdeenshire Provost Raymond Bissett O.B.E., Heather Bisset and Councillor J.A.Porter J.P. presided at the lunch. Provost Bisset gave the Address to the Haggis and Toast to Robert Burns and did a spectacular job of it. He is pictured below during his presentation. The haggis was piped in by Heather Mackay and a delicious lunch followed.A group of tired but very happy Houstonians returned to the Copthorne Hotel to begin packing and preparing to return home.

     Some of our group departed on Sunday and some had early morning flights the next day, but for those who were still present and up for it, Margaret and Geoff Hadley invited us to their home for an informal buffet dinner and refreshments and a chance to have a last visit together before returning home. It capped a truly memorable time in Aberdeen, one in which the weather, contrary to the forecast, was cool and clear the entire time we were there, and the hospitality and friendship were the warmest anyone could ever imagine. Our sisterhood with Aberdeen is indeed alive and well.

Bon Accord!

 

2002 Exchange Visit of Grampian-Houston Members

The group from Aberdeen joined us for a trip to the State Capitol in Austin and several points of interest. We ended the evening at the famous Oasis Restaurant to watch the spectacular sunset.

 

One of the high points of our time together, was the formal dinner-dance at the Braeburn Country Club. The dinner began with a parade of our leadership into the dining area, led and piped in by Al Campbell. There were toasts and presentations worthy of our two groups.

Grand Entry

A trip to Texas always means Texas barbecue and good old country and western dancing, and we did it up right at Booth, Texas. The food was good and the music and entertainment were great, and we left saying, "Ya'll come back now, y'hear?".

 

As we wound down the activities of the week, we visited Moody Gardens in Galveston and saw the IMAX presentation and the incredible exhibits under the triangular domes in the gardens area. It seemed a fitting way to wrap up a wonderful week.

 

 

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