Stabroek News Sunday

Extraordin­ary People - Arthur McDonald


When he was nearly 90 Uncle

Arthur learned I was in England on vacation from my job in

Guyana and sent a message inviting me to crew with him in a yachting race in which he was competing. I replied that I was too old and unfit to accept. He got someone else and nearly won the race.

My father’s older brother – in his pomp Air Marshal Sir Arthur

McDonald of the Air Council of the Royal Air Force - was a lifeforce. But not intimidati­ng. When

I first went to England at the age of

18, to go up to Cambridge, he was a VIP but didn’t show it at all. His kind eyes and his chuckling laugh and his smile were like my father’s and that helped. He put me at my ease – conversati­on that drew me out and gave me confidence.

Thereafter he helped me whenever he could while I was at University.

If there is someone of lasting fame in my family it is Uncle

Arthur. He rose and rose to be Air

Marshal helping to run the RAF at the very top. He had done experiment­al work of great distinctio­n with fighter planes. At one point in an illustriou­s career he was seconded to be first Commander of the Pakistan Air Force. But more importantl­y in the greater scheme of things, he was in earlier days in the forefront of the team which tested super-secret radar in the 1930s and brought it to success in time to be decisive in winning the Battle of Britain against Nazi Germany. The British Air Minister at the time told him and the small team testing the applicatio­n of the new technology that an Empire’s fate depended on them. I have seen a letter he wrote my father in which he describes the excitement when blips appeared on the experiment­al monitor indicating airliners rising out of Schiphol internatio­nal airport hundreds of miles away and they knew for the first time that the device worked and early warning in battle would be possible.

In the sidelines of his outstandin­g Air Force career he was a famous yachtsman, no doubt learning the rudiments of that sport sailing in the blue and sunlit seas off the windy coasts of Antigua in his boyhood. In 1948 at the Olympic Games in England he captained the British yachting team and took the Olympic oath on behalf of all the sportsmen.

A Great Man, no doubt. To me he was an astonishin­g presence but mainly a good and helpful and friendly uncle.

When we met in Cambridge once Uncle Arthur gave me a piece of advice I have tried never to forget. “Ian”, he said “however serious the work you are doing never forget to enjoy life”. And he quoted from William Hazlitt: “much thought on hard subjects after time stems and dulls the dancing of the spirits, the gaiety of mind and weighs upon the heart so making us disremembe­r what we are about - enjoying every day’s common sweet pursuits “.

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