On Friday 18 January, a large gathering of relatives and friends from the mainland, Skye, Uist, Lewis and Harris attended the funeral service in the Church of Scotland, Tarbert, Isle of Harris, of the late Rev Roderick M Mackinnon Lth, retired Church of Scotland Minister who passed away suddenly but peacefully in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness on Saturday 12 January in his 91st year.
The previous day, Thursday 17 January, over 400 mourners attended a service in the Church of Scotland, Castle Street, Dingwall, where 70 years ago, Rev Mackinnon became a communicant member of the church and where he had served as an elder for many years. The remains were taken to Luskentyre cemetery and laid to rest a short distance from his twin Murdo, who predeceased him over 30 years ago.
Rev Mackinnon had retired to Conon Bridge on his retirement from the ministry in 1995 and had celebrated 50 years in the ministry in March 2018. The following tribute by Donald Martin, a fellow Harris man and family friend, was delivered at the service in Tarbert.
Uill a chàirdean ‘s e urram agus toileachas a tha ann dhomhsa bhi seo an-diugh airson iomradh thoirt as leth ar deagh charaid An t-Urramach Ruairidh MacFhionghain soisgeulaich dìleas, dìcheallach, agus duine a bha air leth gasta agus coibhneil. Agus ‘s e gun do dh’iarr Ruairidh fhèin orm seo a dhèanamh dha a tha na mhòr thoileachas dhomh.
Friends, it is a great honour and privilege for me to be with you here this morning to pay tribute to our very good friend Rev Roderick Mackinnon, a faithful, industrious preacher and a fine and generous man. Sandra and I were greatly honoured to have had Roddie at our wedding forty years ago to propose the toast on behalf of my late parents and we had the pleasure of having him officiating at our daughter Eilidh’s wedding in Inverness in 2007. Roddie and his younger siblings grew up with my father and his younger brothers in the village and because of that I am honoured to be delivering this tribute in accordance with Roddie’s wishes.
Roderick Maclean Mackinnon was born in the Old Schoolhouse, Bunavoneadar, Isle of Harris on 28 March, 1928. He and his twin brother Murdo ranked 4th and 5th, in a family of nine – five boys and four girls. Roddie and Murdo were as near identical twins as we have ever had in Harris and because no one could identify who was who they were fondly referred to as twins a Sgitheanaich. Their father John Alexander came to Harris with Skye connections, hence the family name na Sgitheanaich. Their mother Kate Campbell, was from the Caw, a village just outside Tarbert.
Roddie attended Bunavoneadar Primary School followed by two years at Sir E Scott School, Tarbert. His education was curtailed by a lengthy period in hospital and when Roddie recovered he went to Inverness College in 1941 to do a two-year pre-apprenticeship course in joinery. Roddie completed the course in one year and in 1942 started his apprenticeship in Dingwall with his brother in law, Donald Macdonald who was married to Roddie’s eldest sister, Mary.
After 14 years as a joiner, Roddie’s thirst for a change of career led him to the Bible Theology Institute in Glasgow in 1957 and after completing his studies he became a Church of Scotland missionary, first in Tiree where he spent four happy years until he transferred to St Columba Summertown in Govan in 1962, as an assistant to his mentor Rev Dr Thomas M Murchison who was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1969.
Roddie responded to the call to become a Minister in 1963 and graduated from Glasgow University in 1968 at the age of 40 where he was greatly influenced by the teachings of a fellow Harrisman Professor Murdo Ewen Macdonald. In the same year, Roddie and Margaret got married in Glasgow on 24 December 1968. As well as being wed in love, Roddie and Margaret were also wed to the work of the Gospel for five fulfilling and satisfying decades.
His 50 years as a minister in the Church of Scotland was marked by a reception and a presentation of a Certificate by the Moderator of the General Assembly in Strathpeffer in March 2018. Only last month in December 2018 Roddie and Margaret celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary. His long service of 50 years as a Minister was spent in just two congregations – in Daliburgh South Uist, which amalgamated with Howmore in 1978 where he and Margaret and the children Rhona and John, who were both raised in Uist, spent 13 happy years.
A special celebration event was held for the family in Daliburgh in July 2018 to commemorate his 50 years as a Minister. A much- loved minister throughout Uist, Roddie was the model Parish Minister while Margaret was the model wife of the manse. The manse in Daliburgh was always an open home to church goers and non- church goers, Catholics and Presbyterians alike.
For Roddie and Margaret an individual’s religious beliefs was immaterial and many of them became lifelong friends. His popularity as a compassionate, caring pastor was rewarded by the residents of South Uist when he was elected as their Councillor for the Lochboisdale ward on the new Comhairle nan Eilean in May 1974, one of five clergymen elected to the new Council. As a councillor, Roddie was a conscientious and tireless campaigner on behalf of his constituents and along with his good friend, Father Calum Maclellan the Council’s Vice Convener, they fought hard and successfully for many of the much-needed major improvements in education, social work, roads and ferry services for the people of Uist.
During his seven fruitful years on the Council, Roddie served as an effective Chairman of the Social Work Committee and pioneered many new social care initiatives throughout the Western Isles.
His call to Kilmuir and Logie Easter in Ross-shire in 1981 required Roddie to give up his Council duties in the Western Isles but his wide experience as a knowledgeable and fair interpreter of committee rules resulted in him joining many Committees and Trusts with the Church of Scotland at local and national levels. His grasp of Committee procedures was unequalled and enabled him to undertake a number of Presbytery Clerk posts with great ease. His reliability in making effective and carefully thought contributions were much valued by his colleagues. Roddie, always his own man, would justify his decisions in a fair and reasoned way.
Although Roddie gave up full time ministry duties in 1995 normal retirement was certainly not on his busy agenda. He continued his pastoral duties doing locum serving many congregations in Golspie, Thurso, Lewis, Uist, and Harris and was in fact due to do a short spell back in Scarista in a few months’ time. His good humour and ready willingness to have a good giggle at himself, his humility and his pastoral care endeared him to all sections of the community. He was an avid reader of all types of books but particularly ones on religion, history and politics. He wrote various book reviews for the West Highland Free Press, sermons and articles for the Gaelic Supplement of Life & Work. His beautifully crafted eloquent obituaries on fellow preachers were always a delight to read.
Roddie was a gardening fanatic and his beautiful garden in Conon Bridge is testament to many long hours spent in peaceful solitude tending to his plants, flowers and vegetables. Very few people left the house without a cutting from his many wonderful collections.
His fully equipped workshop at the back of the house would do justice to the best of joinery shops. He was rightly proud of the many items of furniture and wooden articles he could still produce with consummate craftmanship.
He was actively involved in the garden and in his carpentry hobbies right up until a few weeks prior to his passing.
Those of us who were used to Roddie turning up at the house, unannounced and armed with his iPad to show us photographs of his beloved and endearing grandchildren, his latest gardening display and wooden masterpieces, will miss his entertaining and engaging ceilidhs.
Roddie never forgot his close roots in Harris and was a passionate supporter of the Gaelic language and culture, which along with his religion, principles and social conscience were all moulded by his strong family upbringing within the small tight knit community of North Harris.
Roddie was very much everyone’s Minister and a Minister for all occasions. His life and journey on this earth could truly be summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Today our thoughts and prayers are with Roddie’s family, his widow Margaret, daughter Rhona, son John and his three beloved grandchildren – Somhairle, Fearchar and Martha, his sister Chrissie, brother John Alex in Australia, the family of his sister Agnes, who passed away just eight weeks ago, and the extended family whose sorrow is tinged with the joy of treasured memories of a life fulfilled.
Cuimhne ‘s iomradh math a chaoidh bi air an fhìrinn choir.