Passing of last Black Watch piper to play John F Kennedy’s funeral
HISTORY: Proud piper was part of band that captured the American president’s heart
A remarkable tie between the Black Watch and the White House has come to end with the passing of the last surviving regimental piper to have played in the 1963 funeral procession of former president John F Kennedy.
Bruce Cowie from Kirriemuir was one of nine members of the Black Watch pipes and drums invited to play in the cortege at the 1963 funeral of JFK, at the special request of the president’s wife, Jackie.
The proud grandfather and great grandfather, who continued to play the pipes until recent years, died just hours short of his 78th birthday and almost four years on from taking to the stage with internationally-renowned tenor Alfie Boe in a 50th anniversary commemoration of the poignant day which claimed the popular president.
Born in Dundee, where he met his wife, Anne, while they were both working in the city’s Dura Street mill, Mr Cowie served nine years with the Black Watch, learning to play the bagpipes after joining the regiment.
Just days before the assassination of JFK on November 22 1963, Mr Cowie and his bandmates had played at a White House charity event, and in the momentous events to follow they learned they had captured the heart of the president when the First Lady made the special request for them to play at his funeral.
Mr Cowie later recalled the “surreal” situation he found himself in as a 24-year-old piper proud to wear the Red Hackle and represent the regiment and its recruiting heartland in Dundee and Angus.
Ahead of the November 2013 anniversary event in London, he said: “When we were leaving the White House on the bus, JFK came on with his Secretary of State Dean Rusk to thank us personally. It was a real personal touch.”
Days later, as the world was left reeling by the killing of the president, the letter came through from Jackie Kennedy requesting that the band and their pipe major play at the funeral.
The 51st Highland Division and the Old Rustic Bridge were among the tunes they performed, and as the president’s coffin was taken up the steps of the White House the bagpipers peeled off from the procession, playing the Green Hills of Tyrol and After Battle.
“It was a hard thing to explain how I felt at the time, and it was only afterwards that there was a realisation that you were part of history,” Mr Cowie said in 2013.
He is survived by his daughters Margaret and Sandra, and son, Bruce. Another daughter, Heather, died six years ago.
The pipes and drums of the Black Watch at JFK’s funeral in 1963.
Bruce Cowie with his pipes at his home in Kirriemuir.
John F Kennedy personally thanked the pipers after they played at a White House charity event.