The shinty community in Lochaber and beyond, as well as the wider world of cattle breeding and agricultural shows are mourning the loss of one of their most knowledgeable and committed friends and kenspeckle figures with the passing of Donnie MacKenzie Senior of Altour Road, Spean Bridge. He had been in failing health for several months and died in the Belford Hospital in Fort William on Saturday, December 16, aged 85 (born October 13, 1932).
A man who lived and breathed the Lochaber air all his life, Donnie was an accomplished stock-man and breeder of Charolais cattle, working from the Inverlochy Castle Farm on the outskirts of Fort William, and for a time at the Long John Distillery at Lochy Bridge in the shadow of Ben Nevis before it was bought by Whitbreads. The Farm House, to which they had moved from nearby Ben View Crescent (which is no more) was to be a regular "dropping-in" point for shinty players and fans on their way to and from shinty committee meetings and games for many years, with Donnie and his late wife Dympna the most hospitable of hosts.
Born in Fort Augustus and the son of a shepherd, the family eventually moved to Spean Bridge. It is no surprise that Donnie was steeped in the traditions of Lochaber. He worked for nearly all his adult life (38 years) at the sharp end of the ground-breaking (literally) and innovative agricultural changes introduced to the Great Glen Cattle Ranch by Inverlochy Castle owner Joseph Hobbs. He started as a tractor-man, but Donnie eventually became as well-known and as comfortable at the Perth Bull Sales as he was at shinty venues throughout the north of Scotland. His skill as a cattle breeder earned him the historic title of having sold the most expensive bull ever to come from Lochaber, a magnificent Charolais specimen which gleaned five thousand guineas. He also held the record for a steer at the Ben Nevis Auction Mart, nearly £2,000. He was also a long-term participant in the Lochaber Agricultural Show.
Donnie eventually took over the lease of the Farm where he had been the stock-man and divided his time between that onerous responsibility and a singular contribution to shinty in the north over many years. He shared his time between his three great loves, agriculture, shinty, and his family. He served on shinty committees and groups too numerous to list, but most notably undertook roles as on Disciplinary Committee and as Secretary, Chairman and President of his home team Lochaber Camanachd. Most notably, he was the second President of the Camanachd Referees' Association from 1981-86, succeeding his great friend Douglas MacKintosh of Newtonmore. The silver-mounted caman he was presented with for his contribution to the fledgling referees' body will be placed on his coffin next week.
Donnie had been a shinty player himself, most often as a goalkeeper with Spean Bridge, but photographic evidence has emerged (to most people's surprise) of him playing in the colours of nearby and great rivals, Fort William. It is worth noting also that Donnie was one of the leading figures who fund-raised to build the Lochaber Camanachd changing rooms and kitchen at the playing field, which put Lochaber ahead of most clubs at the time in terms of facilities for players, officials and spectators. Before this, players had changed in an old caravan with no toilets or showers.
Donnie was the second youngest of a family of eight - Margaret, the only other surviving family member, brothers Neil (Torlundy), Murdo (Cannich), John and Harry, as well as Annie, and Katy. He is survived by his son Donnie, himself a former shinty player and the last Secretary of the Camanachd Association (1982-86) before it appointed a full-time official.
The funeral will take place on Thursday, December 28 at Kilmonivaig Parish Church in Spean Bridge at 1.00pm, thereafter going to Blarour Cemetery. Family flowers only please.