The North East has lost an inspirational leader with the passing of Maitland Mackie last week.
Maitland died only a few months after his beloved Norwegian wife Halldis, at whose funeral he spoke with great love and compassion.
I am privileged to have been able to count Maitland as a friend. Many times he showed me round the farm at Westertown displaying pride in the herd of Jersey cows with their computerised milking system.
The cows were, of course, the major source of milk and cream for the ice cream “factory on the farm” where Maitland showed the importance of Investors in People and explained the process not only of making ice cream but developing new products.
He took me to the turbines on the hill which provided power for the factory and farm and showed me his vision of how wind energy could deliver sustainability and, suitably sited, be absorbed into the landscape.
He and Halldis entertained us in his beautiful Norwegian House with its superb views across to Bennachie.
He loved a party and when my wife and I had a gathering at our house one Christmas season not that long ago, Maitland arrived, bearing gifts having driven across through deep snow when many others had cried off.
Maitland came from a political family. His father was Convener of Aberdeenshire County Council and I had the privilege of getting to know him when I joined NESDA (the North East Scotland Development Authority) as a young Research and Information Officer when he was its Chair.
Although his father was elected as an Independent Councillor he never made any secret of his Liberal leanings and also stood as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate.
His brother George was briefly Liberal MP for Caithness and Sutherland and is still a member of the House of Lords, though frail. Another brother, John, became a Labour MP and a Minister.
Not surprisingly, Maitland also had politics in his blood. He stood for the council, for the European Parliament and for the Scottish Parliament. It is our loss that he was unsuccessful as he would have enlivened debate, challenged conventional wisdom and brought a great sense of fun into politics as he did with his campaigning.
He was, of course, successful in being elected as Rector of Aberdeen University, a role he filled with style, securing great popularity among the students. I attended a number of events in which he participated, including a successful Better Together meeting and an amazingly well attended seminar on International Development – the last time I saw Maitland and Halldis together.
Maitland was a man of action in every sense enjoying the great outdoors in Scotland, Norway and around the globe. He wanted to shape and influence things and he did. In the hope it might offer a better avenue to political influence, Maitland even joined the Conservative Party for a time.
I fondly remember the letter he sent me after that had run its course. It read, “Dear Malcolm, How do you feel about prodigals returning? Have own fatted calf, Yours Maitland.”
Needless to say I responded with alacrity and he was a staunch and committed supporter of the Liberal Democrats ever after.
He often told us he was losing sleep over the prospect of the UK breaking up and lost no opportunity to make the case for Better Together and was angry at the abuse that not only he got but also members of his family. His last words from the pulpit at Halldis’s funeral, speaking of their life together, were “I can testify. We are Better Together.”
Third Don Crossing – Bruce Bridge?
I am pleased that work is under way on the Third Don crossing which I and my fellow Liberal Democrats have championed and progressed throughout, in spite of the implacable opposition of the Labour Party and occasional wobbles by others.
I notice that an MSP has suggested a competition to name the bridge. Geographically, I suppose the most appropriate is the Grandholm Bridge, but that is already spoken for. An alternative might be the Danestone Bridge. Of course, we could call it the Bruce Bridge – no, not to massage my vanity, but in recognition of the first Don Bridge built during the reign of King Robert the Bruce and still standing. I rest my case.