Coll MacDougall, Oban

Former Shinty journalist Coll MacDougall passed away recently after a long illness. Thanks to Sandy Neil and The Oban Times for the undernoted obituary.

Coll could never go unnoticed or be under-estimated.

With his stately gait and corporation well to the fore, he was a kenspeckle figure on the Oban scene and influential both locally and in the political and general life of Scotland.

His signature column MacCaig in the Oban Times was widely read and its comments were sometimes feared, sometimes hated and most often a great pleasure to the general public.

Hapless councillors, public figures and local or national policies came under scrutiny and felt the sharpness of his pen. Often, he wrote with compassion on local events tragic or comic and the column was, for many, the first thing people read each week.

Coll, a native Gaelic speaker, was an Argyll man with family roots which went far back in to our history. He was a pupil of Oban High School in the 1950s and went on to Edinburgh University although the subject and duration of his studies were often shrouded in mystery.

What we do know is that they gave Coll a basis on which to build a wide network of influential contacts whom he used ruthlessly and professionally to further any subject he espoused.

Always somewhat of a fantasist, one was never sure how many of Coll’s tales about his contacts were true, but he professed close acquaintance with senior members of the legal profession and with politicians like Jack McConnell, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond and certainly attracted interesting interviewees to his Oban Fm Radio programmes and to the social events which he from time to time organised in Oban and the surrounding area.

Oban Fm’s Campbell Cameron recalled: ‘Coll joined Oban Fm and became the full-time volunteer news man, classic music and Sunday morning host and joint presenter of the Wednesday Drivetime.

‘This led to many further adventures with visits to the emerging parliament in Edinburgh and interviews with all the top Scottish Politicians. Oban Fm batted well above its political weight as a result.’

Colls’ first job was as an admin assistant with the company who laid the trans-Atlantic cable which terminated at Oban. In the late 1970s he founded Lorne Advertising, a design and advertising business based in Oban.

Until the tragic death of his mother in a house fire, he lived at home but later graduated to flats in Oban where he lived, surrounded by piles of newspapers and a certain bachelor disorder, but from which he emerged, immaculately dressed, when the occasion demanded. He never learned to drive, preferring to stride to and from his house at Gallanach in all weathers.

In his youth, Coll professed to be an expert yachtsman and often regaled his audience with his sea-tales as crew aboard the boats of the great and the good. Maybe that is where he got his taste for lunching and for good food and wine. His ability to organise a good meal or a Burns Night with all the trimmings were much appreciated by those whom he regarded as friends.

MacCaig had talent and was a serious journalist who should have gone far. He was a shinty (and general) correspondent for The Times and had bylines elsewhere. He, however, preferred the local to the national and was happy to be a rather large fish in a smaller West Highland pool.

By nature, he could be choleric and free with a whiplash retort when it was required but was also an amusing companion, titillating those in his company with amusing but scurrilous tales of local goings -on which he often threatened to publish posthumously. He said he knew where all the skeletons were buried.

Joan Bennett of The Oban Times wrote the following appreciation: ‘Coll wrote his first column for the Oban Times under the nom de plume of McCaig on May 4, 1995. Initially there was general discussion amongst the readership querying who exactly was this McCaig.

‘It was obviously someone who knew Oban and all that was happening in the town extremely well. Slowly it emerged that the new provocative writer was Coll and eventually people began to call him McCaig.

‘Coll was very intelligent and always wrote extremely well in his own inimitable style. He spent hours reading over the old filed copies of the Oban Times checking on information about the days of yore. People would frequently buy the newspaper particularly to see what Coll had written.

‘He was avidly interested in politics and was a staunch Conservative, although he knew many personalities across the wider political spectrum in Argyll and indeed the whole of Scotland. He wrote pertinently for the paper about politics and politicians.

‘He also loved shinty and was very proud to write a shinty column for the Times of London, with which the shinty fraternity in the West Highlands did not always agree. He produced copy for his Oban Times column on an antiquated floppy disk. He did not master the art of the advanced computer.

‘He was an entertaining wit, and often annoyed those whose adventures he brought into the public arena. His column was invariably stimulating and frequently our editors had to deal with aggrieved personalities who thought that his views were those of the newspaper.

‘He wrote his last column for our newspaper on October 20, 2011, after 16 years of week in week out contribution, when ill health was beginning to take its toll. He was missed by the newspaper and its readers. The Oban Times really appreciated all that he wrote. He was an Oban character and Oban will miss him.’

Another friend, Patrick Baird, wrote: ‘Although he immensely enjoyed the company of the great and the good, Coll was was always ready to chat and share a story with everyone he met. He had an immense memory and never forgot someone he had met or what they had talked about. He will be remembered fondly by a vast number of people in Argyll and Lochaber.’

In his latter years, Coll suffered from ill-health which curtailed his activities and lowered his profile ‘on the radar’. He bore these reasonably philosophically, with the odd dark remark about the medical profession, with whom he was actually on good terms. The end of his life was spent in the Care Home on the north Argyll Care Home on the Bealach an Righe overlooking Oban.

With his passing, Oban has lost one of her enigmatic, loyal and influential figures but his legacy lives on in his journalistic output and in the hours of programmes where he cajoled, admonished and amused his listeners, played lots of music, classical and otherwise, and provided a valuable source of information to those whose radios were within the range of his transmitters.

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