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Tributes to John Macdonald a Highland bobby who rose to rank of Chief Superintendent

By Hector MacKenzie

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John MacDonald.
John MacDonald.

One of the North Highlands most respected former police officers has died at the age of 81, after a short illness.

Many Facebook and other tributes to retired Chief Superintendent John Macdonald have flowed in from former colleagues and friends - including some from lads whom as tearaway youngsters, his quiet but firm counsel set on the straight and narrow.

John was born in London in February 1943 to Sutherland soldier Hugh Macdonald, then serving in the Scots Guards, and his young wife Rita, who belonged to the capital.

Six weeks later, Hugh was posted to North Africa, where he took part in some of the last bloody battles of the desert campaign, being wounded and mentioned in dispatches for gallantry in rescuing comrades.

When Hugh departed, Rita and John left the dangers and air-raid alarms of London for the safety of Hugh’s family home at Melness, in north Sutherland.

On demob, Hugh returned home to Melness, where John was joined by siblings Erling and Mary.

John attended Primary School in Melness and then aged 12, it was off to Dornoch Academy for secondary education, staying in term time with over 40 other lads from remote areas of Sutherland at Earls Cross Hostel.

On leaving school in 1961, he moved to Inverness, to work at first with the Royal Liverpool Assurance company in Queensgate.

Two years later John, by then a strappiing 6ft 4in, joined Inverness Burgh Police - the beginning of a very successful career that would also see service on amalgamations with Inverness Constabulary and later Northern Constabulary.

He joined the police force to serve the public and community policing remained very close to his heart.

Fondly remembered by public and colleagues alike, he served several years as community officer in Hilton, Inverness.

Patrolling this large beat by bicycle, he became known as John the Bike or Big John.

Local folk knew who he was and in turn, he knew who they were – like his Melness forebears, he had a great memory for facts, names and faces.

He had an uncanny knack of spotting potential wrongdoing before it occurred and he steered many young people away from trouble.

In 1965 John married local lass Margaret Taylor at Ness Bank Church, and a year later their first son Hugh arrived, to be followed by Ailsa and Iain.

Always highly motivated and keen to learn, John combined work with studies at Inverness College and Aberdeen College to earn business qualifications, and carried on to gain a BA degree from the Open University in 1988.

John served in Inverness twice, Thurso, Nairn, Wick and Dingwall, latterly in the rank of chief superintendent, but early in 1994 he retired to support Margaret when she became terminally ill, and sadly passed away in June of that year.

Although devastated by her early loss, John quickly learnt a new set of skills and was

able to run the home at Conon Bridge effectively, as Margaret had left him a full set of instructions, insisting he needed to get into a routine.

The following year, John began working with the security vetting team at Dounreay Atomic Energy Authority base, alongside fellow retired police officers, John Ratter and Gordon Noble.

This was followed by employment at BT’s Alness call centre, where he enjoyed working with a variety of people and, as he had done in the police, mentoring colleagues.

John completed his working life with a spell in Scottish Water’s mail room in Inverness.

When he finally retired, John travelled widely, as far afield as China, America, Canada, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand, Russia, Estonia and Germany.

He particularly enjoyed historical trips to the Napoleonic battlefields, the World War I battlefields and the D-Day beaches.

John also roamed far afield throughout the UK as well as frequent trips to visit Ailsa In Edinburgh, Hugh, Fiona and grandchildren in Thurso, and his mother and Mary in Melness.

He moved from Conon Bridge back to Inverness in 2000, where some years later he was joined by new partner Maureen Conway, a keen gardener, whom he helped to transform their garden into a wonderland of flowers and vegetables.

John’s interests were many. He enjoyed photography, supporting Inverness Caley Thistle, golf, cycling, reading and technology. He was also an active member and helper at the Men’s Club which met at the Dunbar Centre in Church Street.

A sociable man, he loved being with friends for a meal, a coffee, or just chattiing with former colleagues.

Sadly, his last years were tinged with tragedy. Maureen died in early 2021 and her loss was compounded later that year by the sudden death, at only 51, of his son Iain.

John soldiered on and remained very independent right up until the end of last November, when his health started to deteriorate. Until late January he was cared for at home by Ailsa, supported by Hugh.

John spent his last eight weeks at Daviot Care Home. His popularity was such that one day staff had to set up a makeshift waiting room for all his visitors. John passed away peacefully with Ailsa, Hugh and Fiona by his bedside.

John is survived by Hugh, four grandsons, a granddaughter, daughters-in-law Fiona and Iona, his brother Erling in Glasgow and sister Mary in Melness.

His packed memorial service was held at William Fraser’s funeral premises, followed by interment beside Margaret in Tomnahurich Cemetery.

Former police colleague and Northern Constabulary historian Dave Conner posted on Facebook: “Goodbye Big John. You will never be forgotten. Thank you for your service, your support and your friendship. John excelled as a boss in every rank he held.”

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