It was May 5, 1993 and Ernie Ross knew Nelson Mandela would be speaking in London’s Westminster Hall.
Just three years after his prison release Madiba was being closely followed by the British media.
But for the Dundee West MP, a chance to meet with the man whose freedom he had campaigned for, was an opportunity too important to miss.
So despite the ANC leader’s every move being reported, the plucky Labour MP organised a secret meeting away from prying eyes.
Now for the first time, following his death, Ernie’s family have opened their treasured photo albums.
And incredible images of world leaders alongside shots of a family man who rode the 22 bus to talk to his constituents reveal a portrait of a public servant who worked tirelessly – often without recognition – for the people of Dundee.
Dundee born and bred
Ernie Ross was born on July 27, 1942 in Blackness Road, and was one of six.
His parents, Catherine (nee Glancy) was a former Caledon Shipyard worker who then joined NCR where her husband, Ernest Ross also worked.
After a time at both St Joseph’s and St Mary’s RC primaries he moved onto St John’s Junior Secondary School.
An apprenticeship in engineering at Caledon followed before he joined the Merchant Navy as a junior marine engineer on the BEN Line.
Love of his life
In 1962, at the Celtic Social Club in Hilltown, Ernie met dressmaker Jane Moad.
Known as June, the pair saw their romance flourish at dances in the Empress and Continental ballrooms.
They got engaged on February 16, 1963 and married on February 1, 1964 at St Frances Friary, Dundee.
Lawrence Street would be their first address with children Stephen, Karen and Ali helping turn the house into a home.
Joining a trade union
With a young family to look after Ernie took a job at Lawside Foundry having left the merchant navy before he married.
Other jobs including loom maintenance engineer for TC Keay textiles would follow before becoming quality control engineer for Timex at the Milton of Craigie plant.
In 1973, sparked by his increasing involvement in the trade union movement, Ernie joined the Labour Party.
A member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers he became a passionate campaigner on issues of poverty and social justice.
This commitment only strengthened when he decided to stand as a prospective MP.
In 1979 – the same year Margaret Thatcher became Conservative Prime Minister, Ernie won the Dundee West seat for Labour.
He would go on to serve for almost 26 years, despite often poor health.
During his first term he survived cancer thanks to pioneering surgery.
Karen Girolami is Ernie’s daughter.
She said: “My dad was always incredibly proud that his life was saved due to surgery that took place in Dundee and was deemed to be miraculous at the time.”
Led by Sir Alfred Cuschieri, a Maltese surgeon at Ninewells Hospital, Ernie was one of the first patients to experience radical gastric surgery and ensuing innovative treatments.
And by the hand one of the pioneers of keyhole surgery.
On the side of the oppressed
Throughout his political career Ernie would speak up for those he deemed mistreated by power – even if that meant a shift in his own political ideology.
Michael Marra, whose first job in politics was working with Ernie, is an MSP for North East Scotland.
He said: “Ernie became an MP by coming through the trade union movement.
“However, after years of the Thatcher government, the impact that had on industry and how his own people in Dundee were affected, he was absolutely behind New Labour.
“But that was borne out of devastation. It was his – and many others’ – main priority to get a Labour government elected because it was heartbreaking to watch people suffer.
“For Ernie it was about making sure the people he represented had a voice and had opportunities.
“Whether standing with the Timex workers, reducing youth unemployment or helping Dundee University retain its school of dentistry…
“He served tirelessly, with absolute humility.”
Meeting with Mandela
One of the causes Ernie gave his support to was the campaign for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
“My dad was against any kind of injustice and he absolutely saw Mandela’s incarceration as injustice. So when he came to the UK my dad really wanted to meet him,” said Karen.
Mandela was scheduled to speak at Westminster Hall – near to Ernie’s London office.
Seizing an opportunity Ernie reached out to Mandela’s team and a secret meeting was planned.
Their short time together took place behind closed doors with refreshments in Ernie’s office.
He was so proud
“What my dad hadn’t accounted for was the very astute catering staff realising who the refreshments were for.
“When he turned up, these workers who my dad had advocated for and helped gain better working rights, were in their Sunday best ready to welcome Mr Mandela.
“For years my dad recalled this meeting.
“But the subject of his pride was these people. Here were men and women who worked hard and remained largely unnoticed in society, but they had that special time with Nelson Mandela.
“That just typified my dad and how humble he was.”
A man of the people
“I think the greatest thing I could say about Ernie is to tell you how truly, genuinely likeable he was,” added Michael Marra.
“Politics can be full of ego – 0f which he had none.
“It can be about making a name for yourself but Ernie was only ever interested in being on the side of, and walking with those who found themselves oppressed by power.”
This extended far beyond his Dundee constituency to those in the Middle East.
Photographs shared by his family even show Ernie extending a hand to Yasser Arafat, former Palestinian President, during a trip to Tunis.
But closer to home he also made sure he went to where the people were and not the other way around.
To this end boarding the 22 bus became his way of speaking to his constituents.
Known as the chief pram pusher in the family, Ernie got a second lease of life after retirement when he could fully enjoy his grandchildren Holly, Sonny and Zara.
Attending every match he could or watching every dance show, his priority, as it always had been, was to be the best – most present – husband, dad and granddad that he could be.
A keen fan of both Celtic and Dundee United, with an ever present sweet tooth, Ernie enjoyed being able to spend more time with June and his family.
Sadly, on October 17, after a short period of illness Ernie passed away.
Karen added: “We really did have a marvellous start in life because of my parents, and the life my dad led.
“This was a man who made a difference to Scotland… a difference to Dundee, and a difference to us.
“We miss him terribly.”
You can read the family’s announcement here.