The sanctuary windows at St. Andrew’s are identified by image or name and in some cases both image and name. Hidden within the contents are stories that often are overlooked or forgotten with the passage of time. One of the more Intriguing names is that of Sir Robert Laidlaw. How did a man who is addressed by the English title ‘Sir’ get his name on a window at St. Andrew’s by the Lake, Duluth, Minnesota? Who was Sir Robert Laidlaw and what was his connection to St. Andrew’s?
Sir Robert’s life story is especially fascinating. He was born in Scotland in 1856. As a young man he joined the British textile trade in London. From this introduction to the world of commerce he developed a business empire that spanned several continents—diamond fields in Africa, rubber plantations and tea estates in Asia. He lived in Calcutta, India for 20 years. There he founded Whiteaway and Laidlaw, a premier department store with branches in eighty Asian cities. The specialty was imports and exports of various goods. The store was sometimes referred to as the Selfridges of India.
In England Sir Robert was assisted by Winston Churchill who helped him campaign for a member of parliament, a position which he won. He was knighted in 1909 and became British Commissioner to the International Opium Commission in Shanghai. Sir Robert was a visionary and philanthropist who generously endowed two schools in Calcutta, one for boys and another for girls. He gifted money, land and buildings to numerous causes that he deemed worthy. He was closely connected with missionary work in India and other places where he saw a need for benevolent monetary and types of assistance.
In India Sir Robert was a member of the Dharmatolla Street Methodist Episcopalian Mission Church and back in England he was connected with the Westminster Congregational church. In 1913 Sir Robert Laidlaw became president of the World’s Sunday School Association. The mission of the organization was to promote Christian education among youth worldwide.
Sir Robert’s death in 1915 at the age of fifty-nine was a shock to Sunday school people in America. He had been a tireless worker for religious and philanthropic efforts around the world, including the United States.
The question still remains: How did Sir Robert get his name on one of our sanctuary windows? He had traveled in America. His eldest daughter attended Gaucher College in Baltimore. St. Andrew’s was a mission church at that time. Somehow Sir Robert Laidlaw became aware of St. Andrew’s need for a contribution and believing in its mission he generously complied as he probably did for many other mission churches in the United States. We can be grateful today for his generous spirit.
Submitted by Arlene Renken