Dr John MacLeod 1935 – 2009
I first met John and Lorna in 1977 when I came to North Uist as a young doctor on the University of Aberdeen diving expedition. John made it his business to seek out the expedition campsite and offered us help and hospitality. He remained my friend and mentor until his unexpected death last week at the age of 74. Like so many people in this community, in this country and around the world he gave me friendship, support, advice and hospitality over the following 32 years. He was always a loyal friend and generous with his time. He always looked for and encouraged the best in people.
All of us hear today will have known John in different personal and professional ways.
John parents came to Lochmaddy in 1932 as the family doctors. He was born hear and contributed to community life right up until his death. That’s 77 years of McLeod service to this community, which he was deeply proud of and was recognised last year during the celebration of 60 years of the NHS in Scotland with an exhibition at the Chambers Street museum on the families work for rural health.
John was born in Lochmaddy He attended school in Lochmaddy and then the Nicholson before University in Glasgow. He did national service in the Royal Navy minesweepers before starting his medical jobs and gaining 10 years of valuable medical experience in Glasgow and London with a clear intention to serve this community when his parents retired in 1973.
He was “your doctor” in Lochmaddy for 27 years until he retired from general practice but as you all know he continued to work voluntarily for the community with Com na Mara, The Angling Club and Highland Games – these things you will know better than myself. He was fascinated by the sea and passionate about the Hebrides , your culture and history.
At his heart he was a family man and family doctor. Lorna, Torquil, Alistair and Beth are testament to that and the fond memories and personal stories of patients are the testament to his medical skills of diagnosis and treatment.
What you probably don’t know about John is his national and international reputation as an authority on island and rural health. He wrote many learned medical articles on his island research and medical practice. He researched the radioactive effects of Sellafield and Chernobyl on this community and wrote many book chapters and articles on rural health reflecting on his experience – so he was a good scientist. He gave many national and international papers at medical meetings – so he was a good speaker and communicator. More than this he was a natural leader and innovator in the medical world. He taught and inspired generations of medical students and GPs in training. He lead the way in many aspects of medical education and training including encouraging local school pupils to take up medical careers in their own communities. One of my young GP colleagues in Fort William who was at the Nicholson is a direct testament to that foresight.
He received national medical honours from Royal Colleges of General Practice and Physicians and International honours from the rural health organisations, which he helps found. His international reputation and medical friendships spread throughout the world. Tributes to him have come from around the globe.
He demonstrated that true Hebidean quality of not only welcoming the world proudly to his island but also taking his island to the world. His friendship and encouragement to rural doctors in Australia, Canada, America, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Spain, Norway has been a world wide force for improving other peoples health from the nerve centre at Tig na Heacrch in Lochmaddy .
He encouraged numerous medical professors and doctors from these countries to visit Lochmaddy and see for themselves as I am sure you will have gathered from the selection of international flags in the garden. He was generous with his time and money. When our doctor friend from Zimbabwe needed a break from his counties tyranny and inflation John without a second thought helped him with travel costs.
Sadly my last memory of John was this June in Crete at the worldwide medical conference on rural health. The Greeks being a nation of Islands decided to have Island Medicine as one of the conference themes. They had no hesitation in asking John to “ come out of retirement” as the world leader on this medical topic and give the main conference address.
John did not just participate in medical conferences he made them special to other people. He made an effort with people and was always thoughtful generous and polite.
He was an amazing international ambassador for Scotland. He would wear the kilt, gave presents and made sure of the detail .He made an effort to seek out and welcome people no matter which country in the world he was in. In Crete in June he welcomed our Australia friend Di Wyatt with a dram and smoked salmon to bring some of his special island magic to peoples lives. He gave me a book. He came to the conference with a piping tune he had had specially commissioned for future conferences and meetings.
John gave a moving account of his life’s work in North Uist which had the 400 delegates from 50 counties spellbound by his wisdom and left with a tear in their eyes as he concluded with his special music from Scotland which will be a lasting international legacy.
Despite the international acclaim and honours what remained really important to John was his local community and their health .He had conducted a one man campaign for 25 years to encourage fisherman to wear lifejackets and prevent tragedy which resulted in a lifetime achievement award from Fishing News. It is a measure of the man that he valued this just as much as his medical honours.
He worried more about other peoples health than his own. When I could see him struggling a bit in June as we walked up a hill he denied any problem to avoid spoiling things for other people and carried on “ full steam ahead” in true John fashion.
Finally and most importantly I must pay tribute to Lorna and the children. None of John’s medical achievements would have been possible without the loyal support and hard work of Lorna. Her hard work in the practice and legendary hospitality are obvious but it has been her love and loyal support at home for John that has made this all possible. John was desperately proud of Torquil, Alistair and Beth as they have each grown into lovely young people in their own right. Their love and success helped sustain him over the years to help him to continue to give so freely to others in this community and throughout the world.
We will not see his like again is often said at funerals but this time it is really is true and we have all been privileged to have known and been inspired John.