Donald John the vet: A much loved and respected Highland gentleman


Photo: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

Tributes have been paid to Donald John MacLennan, the much-loved and respected Skye vet, who died last week at the age of 92.

Donald John had lived on Skye for over 60 years, though he was originally from Grosebay, Harris, where he was born in 1928 — the youngest of 11 children.

Speaking of his childhood in the Free Press a few years ago he said he “didn’t remember it feeling like a hard life at the time, but looking back on it now, it must have been”.

His father, a crofter who would travel to Glasgow to work in the shipyards, had died when he was just six years old.

But the community in which Donald John was raised fostered a sense of friendship and comradeship that stuck with him for all his days.

“If there was such a thing as Christian communism, it was there as we grew up — everyone helped each other,” he had recalled.

Donald John’s early education was at the local Mission Hall before he began school in Stockinish – a three mile walk there and back – at the age of nine.
After junior secondary in Tarbert, Donald John finished his education in Fort William before applying to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh.

Because of the return of servicemen after the war, he had to wait a year before being accepted for his studies. While he waited, he took a job labouring with pick and shovel on Harris’s ‘Golden Road’.

After graduation he worked in Ayrshire for five years, and then returned to Harris in his late 20s – as the only unmarried child – to look after his mother who had taken ill.

When she recovered, he accepted a position with the Highlands and Islands Veterinary Scheme, run by the government for vets working in crofting areas.

He moved to Broadford in 1957 —initially dividing his time between his house in Lime Park and his cousin Katie’s house on the Heaste road.
Not long after he arrived on Skye he met Morag, also from Harris, who was working as a domestic science teacher at Broadford school.

They married in 1960 and then seven years later they moved to a croft at Old Corry, allowing Donald John to get some of his own livestock.

He was an active crofter himself, keeping cattle and as a member with the local sheep stock club — and his involvement would continue long after his official retirement in 1995.

Known for his wealth of stories and knowledge of a broad range of subjects, Donald John was a popular speaker for Burns suppers, and in 2018 his family honoured him with a special 90th birthday celebrations.

In 1982 he received an MBE for services to the community.

On the Skye and Lochalsh Memories Facebook page this week, hundreds of messages were left in tribute.

Among them, Skye councillor Calum MacLeod wrote: “A real loss for Skye. The word legend is often bandied about readily but he genuinely was.

“His love of animals was only matched surely by his kindness and consideration to his fellow humans.”

Lochalsh councillor Biz Campbell added: “One of the finest Highland gentlemen I have ever met. You have left us all with wonderful memories.

Your knowledge as a vet was unparalleled. We could telephone any time of the day or night and be assured we were getting the best advice possible. Deepest sympathy to the family.”

Respects were paid along the roadside as the hearse made its way through Broadford on Monday afternoon.

Donald John, whose wife Morag died in 2001, is survived by sons Neil and Norrie and by four grandchildren. Their daughter Rhoda passed away in 2010.

He was buried on Tuesday in Luskentyre Cemetery in Harris, as he had wished.