NORRIE T MACDONALD: Willie Fulton – Harris artist, teacher and golfing stalwart

Willie Fulton

My pal Willie ‘The Bold’ Fulton should have died leading troops into battle.

Falling off a mountain he had conquered, or putting the finishing brush-strokes to his latest masterpiece.

Possibly just holing a long putt with one of his latest versions of the stick he, latterly, couldn’t quite master.

But he died, last Friday, in his own bed in Drinishader at 9:45 am, surrounded by love.

Isn’t that really all any of us can wish for?

I loved the moniker conferred on him by his great pal, Hugh MacLean.

‘The Bold’.

Between them they had led a resurgent Harris Golf Club squarely to the fore of Hebridean sport by their vision, drive, inventiveness and wit.

Of course there were others (Ronnie, Roddie and Bryce to name but three); but the face and character of ‘the wee club’ were completely and possibly lastingly, defined by Willie and Hugh.

Hugh was the ‘scribe’ who furnished me with brilliantly succinct and pithy commentary on the goings on down at Scarista.

He was the one to convey lasting ‘handles’ on the regulars.

He was the first to get in touch.

‘The Bold’ was gone.

Between this veteran group of members they had transformed the ‘wee club’ (as Willie always called it) from a backwater sheep-pasture, to a links of international renown.

The incredible success of the life membership scheme and the genius introduction of the ‘Jackets’ Open weekend had seen a transformation in the club’s fortunes.

The purchase of the land the club now occupies was a story that Willie never tired of regaling.

His feted status as an artist of national renown was nothing compared to the pride he felt when visitors from across the globe flocked to his ‘piece of heaven’. 

Willie was fiercely proud of his Glasgow roots.

A confirmed socialist, a lover of people, a fighter against oppression and a champion for the underdog.

He took his passion for art and for people into his chosen profession: teaching.

But he was no ordinary teacher.

He was one of a very unique breed of educators who, to all of their pupils, become so much more.

A mentor, a guide, an inspiration, indeed a friend.

Just ask the many folk who remember being in his classroom.

Finding anyone who doesn’t remember Willie’s efforts to cajole, to release potential, to find that spark and to push themselves to their limits is rare.

He didn’t care what end of the ‘spectrum’ you were on; he believed that everyone had inherent worth and was entirely deserving of his time, patience and investment.

He tried to enable and ennoble.

Whatever your background, he wanted you to have the same stake in society as everybody else.

To be a citizen of this country.

It wasn’t ever about Willie, it was always about everyone else.

Moving to his beloved Harris was ‘the best decision I ever made’ he once told me.

He cultivated his own wee corner of it, aided and abetted by his beloved Moira (herself a teacher) and between them they ingrained themselves into a community that grew to love and respect them both.

They raised a family, Grant and Jane, and became central to the evolution of Harris into the sporting, cultural and artistic hub it has now become.

He became a Hearach by osmosis.

Like anyone else who has lived there long enough, or even for just a few days, it seeped into his heart.

I can say this with absolute authority as I can recollect the time, shortly after he was released from cardiac surgery in Edinburgh, when I drove him home from Stornoway airport.

I was shocked at his colour, not having seen him for several weeks.

He was grey, like the splendid beard he sported or the profusion of hairs that sprouted from his ears.

We chatted about the future, neither of us absolutely sure of what it would bring.

I turned towards him as we began the descent down to Ardhasaig and, as Taransay began to come into view, I noticed a definite change.

A pink flush was returning his pallor to something more human.

You can scoff but, as I used to joke with him: ‘If Douggie was here himsel’ he would tell you!’

A copy of Para Handy was one of the last things I gave him.

A couple of months later he was back on the golf course and had even ascended the Clisham.

To celebrate, we went to Portugal – he, Hugh, John Archie and I, for a week’s golf.

That was just three years ago.

Man, we had a ball.

Last year he was diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately claimed him.

He had every right, after all that he’d been through, to be viscerally angry.

Dylan Thomas sprang to both our minds.

This time though, he had no troops to lead into battle, no sword and shield, no visible enemy.

I could sense his frustration every time we spoke.

He still had so much that he wanted to do, so many things he wanted to see and a family that he felt he still had to protect, nourish and carry on loving.

I’m pretty sure that he must have told them often enough; because he certainly told me often enough.

But, as men, we share these things very privately among those we confide in most often, when the moment is right, when we are confident it’s just ‘us’.

So if you’re in any doubt Moira, Grant and Jane; he loved you passionately and above all else.

The grandkids too, that he doted on, were a constant source of joy.

But he was also so proud, particularly latterly, of all you’d achieved.

Jane the excellent teacher, Grant the formidable councillor.

He knew you were his ultimate legacy and he realised he couldn’t have done any better.

Wherever he went, and I’ve my own suspicions, he went there beaming with satisfaction.

I asked him for one more favour the last time I saw him.

I’ll tell you (all) about it soon.

The last thing that Willie would have wanted was for golf at Scarista on Saturday to have been in any way compromised by his passing (for the record, not a single one of us would expect it!).

It was discussed, briefly, then summarily dismissed as we all knew that he’d never have condoned anyone missing their Saturday ‘fix’ for something as ‘inconvenient’.

Heck, if he’d have been buried on Saturday morning, he’d have expected play to resume in the afternoon.

Tribute by Norrie T MacDonald, who writes a column, the 19th hole, in the Free Press every Thursday