Obituary: Georgina McAllister, historian, campaigner and writer

Georgina McAllister. Picture: Contributed
Georgina McAllister. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 16 May, 1925, in Glenlivet, Banffshire. Died: 24 March, 2013, in Dufftown, Banffshire, aged 87

Georgie McAllister devoted her life to the service of her beloved Tomintoul, playing a stalwart part in ensuring the continued existence of what at one time looked a bleak future for the highest village in the Highlands. The fragile economy had suffered more than some the effects of job losses and the closure of businesses and a vital bus service.

Georgina Bruce Grant was born in Auchorachan, Glenlivet, one of six children of Robert Grant and his wife Gladys Barker, and raised at Blairnamarrow, on the Lecht Road just outside Tomintoul. From her crofter 
father she inherited a love of language, for Doric was her father’s native tongue. “I cam doon e brae swack’s a hare,” he said after a day on the hill, understandably proud of commendable agility for an octogenarian.

From her mother she took her gentleness and love of music, for Gladys was a church organist and singer. Educated at the local school, Georgie found history a first and lasting love; from an early age she became an oral historian and repository of lore.

“Ask Georgie” was a common refrain if a point at issue arose. Thus her wide circle of friends included geographer Dr John Smith from the University of Aberdeen; Victor Gaffney, author of a history of Tomintoul; and Sir Edward Peck, the diplomat and mountaineer, British ambassador to Nato and chairman of the joint intelligence committee. She kept the thread of village life alive by acting as local correspondent for the Press & Journal and the weekly People’s Journal, ensuring that no matter of note passed unrecorded.

She was known to everyone through working at Tomintoul post office and as curator of the local museum. She worked to keep alive the annual service each July at the priests’ training seminary at Scalan, high in remote Glenlivet, and proved an enthusiast for the introduction of a picnic there afterwards.

It was as a campaigner that she most made her mark, and while she masked her efforts with trademark modesty, she could employ the telling quote. When Willie Low’s daily bus service to and from Dufftown proved to be uneconomical, she didn’t simply bemoan the loss of an essential service, but pointed out to the Scottish traffic commissioners who licensed the run that the bus carried not just passengers but transported all kinds of vital daily supplies. She memorably wrote: “This bus does everything for us: it even brings home the bacon – literally.” When the USA blazed its bicentennial across the world in 1976, she organised local celebrations to mark the founding of Tomintoul in 1776 with the slogan “The Real Bicentennial”.

As a historian, she produced ancient history if anyone wanted it, but as a living genealogist, she not only knew everyone, but understood their bloodlines. She was a minor authority on the escapades surrounding Percy Toplis, the “monocled mutineer” who, in 1920, made a stand at a cottage not far from her childhood home of Blairnamarrow.

Georgie McAllister is survived by her daughter Sandra, son Stuart and her grandson Bryan.