In June 2021, Gus Noble, president of the nonprofit Chicago Scots, which operates Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside, received word that Queen Elizabeth II of England had named him an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – or OBE – “for service to Scottish culture in the United States of America.”
His investiture was delayed at first by the COVID-19 pandemic. And although Noble had opportunities in 2022 to officially receive the honor at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, he delayed the event until July 2023, when the ceremony was planned to take place in the Great Gallery at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh.
That way his father, Robert Noble – whose Member of the British Empire title was conferred in person in London by Prince Charles in 2002 and whose health had been failing in recent years – could attend.
“My proudest day was watching my dad get the MBE,” said Gus, who attended that investiture, conferred for Robert Noble’s service to Scottish agriculture through education and mobilizing public safety measures during the hoof-and-mouth crisis in 2001.
Gus Noble’s investiture date was set for July 5, and on June 10 he spoke to his father from Chicago via FaceTime, anticipating the event. However, Robert Noble died on June 11.
“It came as a shock that he passed when he did,” Noble said during a phone interview July 10 from London. “But I think it was his way of saying, ‘Why don’t you take your, Bobby, so he can watch his father.’ I just took a different Robert Noble with me.”
When the day came for the investiture, Noble assumed it would not be presided over by King Charles III, since that very day the king and Queen Camilla would be busy with the National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication, marking their coronation, at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
So, he was stunned when he walked into the Great Gallery at Holyrood House and there stood King Charles III, from whom Noble received his OBE and with whom he had a brief chat. When Noble mentioned his family, including his wife, Aisha; his son Bobby; and his mother, Joan, King Charles gave them a nod as well.
“It was quite surreal,” Noble said. “I felt like I was watching someone else get the award.”
He was doubly honored when he was asked by the minister of St. Giles Cathedral, the Rev. Calum MacLeod, to be present at the National Service that afternoon as the representative for the Scottish diaspora overseas.
Noble, 53, knew McLeod from Chicago, where McLeod for 17 years was associate pastor at 4th Presbyterian Church and a member of the Chicago SCOTS board.
“It was a huge honor,” Noble said. “I assumed there would be others [representing overseas Scots], but he said, ‘No, you’re it.’ … It was a moment and honor I’ll never forget. I’m Gus from Chicago who plays in a honky tonk band. It was an I’m-not-worthy moment.”
The next few days were a mixture of joy and sorrow, with the family celebrating the life of Robert Noble on July 7 and a public funeral service attended by hundreds on July 9, which would have been his 81st birthday.
“It’s just been a real rollercoaster of mixed emotions,” Noble said.
Noble has been president of Chicago Scots and Caledonia Senior Living, the oldest registered charity in Illinois, since 2004. It was his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped the institution stay virtually disease free and resulted in 100% of residents and 99% of staff being vaccinated, that played a large role in him being awarded an OBE.
“If that’s the case, then it was something the people who live and work at Caledonia accomplished,” Noble said. “Without them, I’d never have been able to do the things I was recognized for.”