Ge­orge Mac­don­ald

The Herald - - OBITUARIES . - ALISON SHAW

Long-serv­ing re­porter with The Her­ald

Born: Au­gust 21, 1935;

Died: Oc­to­ber 1, 2018

GE­ORGE Mac­don­ald, who has died aged 83, was an ar­che­typal, old school gen­tle­man of the press and a vet­eran re­porter with The Her­ald: hon­ourable, metic­u­lous and dap­per, with a dry wit and im­pec­ca­ble short­hand.

Of­ten to be found, in the af­ter­math of a ma­jor story, at the cen­tre of a knot of less speedy scribes, he was un­fail­ingly gen­er­ous in shar­ing his im­mac­u­late ver­ba­tim notes, sav­ing the skin of fel­low hacks who would oth­er­wise have strug­gled to come up with the goods.

And as a se­nior staff man on the then Glas­gow Her­ald, he also be­came some­thing of an in­ad­ver­tent men­tor to sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of young jour­nal­ists who, exposed to his ex­pe­ri­ence and expertise, ac­quired a lit­tle of his skill and in­tegrity by os­mo­sis.

His stock in trade was gather­ing and re­port­ing the facts with­out opin­ing. He worked through some of the best years in news­pa­pers in Scot­land, at a time when the Gran­ite City was home to branch of­fices of half a dozen na­tional news­pa­pers and when spin did not en­ter his lex­i­con.

Yet sur­pris­ingly for a man with a fam­ily her­itage in newsprint – his father and un­cle were both jour­nal­ists, his sis­ter Bet a news tele­phon­ist and news­desk sec­re­tary – he had orig­i­nally em­barked on a ca­reer in medicine, a field he had not cho­sen and to which, it was fairly quickly ap­par­ent, he did not have any affin­ity.

Born in Aberdeen to Agnes and Ge­orge Mac­don­ald he also had ex­po­sure to the le­gacy of one of Scot­land’s most fa­mous lit­er­ary fig­ures – James Les­lie Mitchell, bet­ter known as Lewis Gras­sic Gib­bon, au­thor of A Scots Quair.

Like Ge­orge Mac­don­ald se­nior (Old Mac), Mitchell was a journalist in Aberdeen and the pair worked along­side each other on com­pet­ing pa­pers – Mac­don­ald snr on the Free Press and Mitchell on the Daily Jour­nal. Mitchell also lodged with Old Mac’s mother in a room in her flat in St Mary’s Place, just off Crown Street in the city cen­tre, where he pro­duced some of his early manuscripts. The two re­porters re­mained close friends for many years and young Ge­orge would later in­herit his father’s signed copies of Gras­sic Gib­bon’s works which he pro­vided on long-term loan to the Gras­sic Gib­bon Cen­tre in Ar­buth­nott near Lau­rencekirk.

It was Old Mac who had ap­par­ently wanted his son to study medicine and, af­ter be­ing ed­u­cated at Aberdeen’s Robert Gor­don’s Col­lege, Mac­don­ald du­ti­fully went off to Aberdeen Univer­sity. He did not get fur­ther than the first year be­fore de­cid­ing it was not for him.

He then spent a short pe­riod teach­ing pri­mary pupils in the Buchan area be­fore be­ing called up for na­tional ser­vice where he was a com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment tech­ni­cian in the RAF. A man with a keen math­e­mat­i­cal mind, he en­joyed the work, par­tic­u­larly when posted to Ger­many where he was re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment for a chain of trans­mis­sion sta­tions strad­dling the coun­try.

De­clin­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to ap­ply for an RAF com­mis­sion, he was de­ter­mined to re­turn home and try his hand as a journalist. His father had been at the Glas­gow Her­ald in Aberdeen for many years and his un­cle Nor­man was the sports ed­i­tor at Aberdeen’s Press and Jour­nal. Mac­don­ald, sports mad since boy­hood, wanted to fo­cus on sport but took a job as a trainee gen­eral news re­porter on an Ayr­shire pa­per. By 1960 he had pro­gressed to daily pa­pers and was work­ing at Aberdeen Jour­nals where re­port­ing staff spent al­ter­nate weeks work­ing for the Press and Jour­nal and its sis­ter pa­per the Evening Ex­press. He was part of the team that cov­ered the city’s ty­phoid out­break in 1964.

Mac­don­ald, who never mar­ried, moved to the Glas­gow Her­ald in 1966, suc­ceed­ing his father as the se­nior Aberdeen re­porter. The fol­low­ing year the north-east was riv­eted by one of Scot­land’s most scan­dalous mur­ders, the shoot­ing of wealthy farmer Max Garvie. His wife Sheila and her lover Brian Teven­dale were convicted of the killing in 1968 – af­ter sala­cious de­tails emerged of sex, drugs, a nud­ist colony and swingers’ par­ties at a prop­erty dubbed “Kinky Cot­tage”, ru­moured to be near Al­ford.

Mac­don­ald’s per­fect Pit­mans short­hand came into play dur­ing the trial, which was re­ported vir­tu­ally ver­ba­tim, as did his an­a­lyt­i­cal mind. He and a fel­low journalist spent hours painstak­ingly trawl­ing through val­u­a­tion and vot­ers’ rolls un­til fi­nally, in con­junc­tion with dis­cus­sions with lo­cal shop­keep­ers, they iden­ti­fied the lo­ca­tion of the cot­tage. When they ar­rived, pho­tog­ra­pher in tow, the door was un­locked and porno­graphic pub­li­ca­tions re­mained strewn around. Their hard slog had paid off. It was typ­i­cal of his method of work­ing, qui­etly and dili­gently.

Over al­most 30 years at The Her­ald he worked on count­less ma­jor sto­ries in­clud­ing moun­tain res­cues, mar­itime tragedies and the col­lapse of Aberdeen Univer­sity’s zo­ol­ogy build­ing. Such events in­evitably at­tracted huge me­dia in­ter­est and with so many na­tional news­pa­pers chasing the same story there was con­stant ban­ter and com­pe­ti­tion among the press pack. He and a col­league, armed with a sunken boat’s crew list, would of­ten work ei­ther side of a street to contact bereaved fam­i­lies. But on many oc­ca­sions, rather than have a horde of jour­nal­ists knock­ing on the door in suc­ces­sion, there was a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment that one would do the job and pool the in­for­ma­tion with the oth­ers to avoid un­due dis­tress to the bereaved.

Fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of North Sea oil Mac­don­ald found him­self cov­er­ing Scot­land’s emerg­ing en­ergy in­dus­try and be­came the pa­per’s North Sea correspondent, es­tab­lish­ing a cred­i­bil­ity among the CEOS of in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions who were of­ten happy to speak to him di­rectly. He also cov­ered the 1988 Piper Al­pha disas­ter, which claimed the lives of 167 North Sea work­ers, and the sub­se­quent Cullen In­quiry.

Although news in­ter­vened and he never be­came a ded­i­cated sports re­porter, he cov­ered var­i­ous sport­ing events through­out his ca­reer and re­mained an avid sports fan. He was a mem­ber of Aberdeen’s Seafield Bowl­ing Club, had played at Dee­side Golf since he was a ju­nior mem­ber and, the day be­fore he died, was ec­static to see Europe’s Ry­der Cup vic­tory.

Pre­de­ceased by his sis­ter Bet, he is sur­vived by his el­der sis­ter Elsa.

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