Obituary: Halldis Mackie, general practitioner and arborist

Halldis Mackie: Country doctor, health campaigner, keen climber and expert ice cream taster
Halldis Mackie: Country doctor, health campaigner, keen climber and expert ice cream taster
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Born: 1 October, 1937, in Bergen, Norway. Died: 8 February, 2014, in Aberdeenshire, aged 76

When Halldis Ramm left her native Bergen to study medicine in Scotland she planned to do some missionary work in Africa but pledged that Norway would always be her home.

The gifted and glamorous young student did not reckon on fate stepping in to dramatically alter the course of her life – with a little help from stand-up comic Jimmy Logan.

The Scots entertainer was the one responsible for crowning her 1958’s Aberdeen Student Charities’ Queen, the same year that agriculture student and entrepreneur Maitland Mackie just happened to be charities’ campaign convenor.

That happy coincidence marked the start of a partnership that endured for the next 55 years, as they became a formidable couple both on a personal and professional level; she forging a career as what was something of a rarity in the Sixties – a rural lady doctor – while supporting her husband and family in their hugely successful business ventures including Mackie’s ice cream and crisps.

Though Scotland became her future, she shared with Maitland her deep love of her homeland; its sea, mountains and snow and the traditions and lifestyle of Norway that are now woven into their family heritage.

The daughter of a fisherman, she lost her father Halvor Lunde when she was still a baby and was raised by her mother Aslaug and her second husband Captain Finn Ramm.

Growing up in occupied Norway during the Second World War, she was educated at a school in the country while living with her grandmother. Once she had decided on a career in medicine, however, a move away from Norway was inevitable.

There were no medical schools in the west of the country and it was common for aspiring young doctors from Bergen to study in Aberdeen, where she duly arrived in the late 1950s. Bright and hardworking, the “Viking Beauty” (as the student newspaper described her) stole a few hearts and gained not only a husband but lifelong friends in her roommates – fellow students from India and Nigeria.

During her university days she introduced Maitland to winter sports, which became a large part of family life, and thoroughly enjoyed the social aspect of student life. The couple married at Fana Kirke just outside Bergen in July 1961 and she graduated as a doctor two years later, training initially with a surgeon in Aberdeen, then working with a GP in Fyvie before becoming a community GP in Insch.

There she displayed a steely determination, impressive stamina and unwavering dedication to her work which, in a country practice in a different era, involved long hours and on-call duties. She often began at 7am, taking surgeries as well as antenatal and well woman clinics and administering infant immunisations, blood tests and cardiographs. In addition, there were home visits and attendance at accidents, not to mention hospital visits and midwifery duties delivering babies.

“She would scramble up hills, into barns, put on her cross- country skis when roads were blocked and attend births and deaths in the middle of the night, all with her trademark calm and straightforward manner,” recalled her colleague Dr Mike Kay.

“At weekends she could drive back and forward from her home at Westertown to Insch a dozen times a day, an onerous task even if she could do the 12 miles in 12 minutes in her sporty wee Volvo.”

Highly competent and highly valued by her patients, she was always totally reliable, loyal and renowned for giving an entirely honest and straightforward opinion.

She also believed in health services being delivered as locally as possible and was the driving force and vice chair of the Friends of Insch Hospital, an action group raising funds to replace Insch Medical Centre and Cottage Hospital with a new community hospital.

The Friends were formed after a successful campaign in 1988 to save the local maternity unit. After it eventually closed a decade later, she continued to fight to keep Insch War Memorial Hospital running as a medical unit, encouraging supporters and negotiating with health service managers who were rarely a match for her but who admired her tenacity.

She also championed links and close co-operation between day care and rehab services, long before it was fashionable, and led a campaign to provide a local palliative care suite, modestly refusing to have it named after her. A few years ago she came up with a plan to generate funds for the Friends through a part-share in a community wind turbine. The result is Insch Renewable Energy Consortium, which has a planning application in the pipeline for a three-turbine project.

Mrs Mackie, who ran her GP career in tandem with her commitments as the mother of three children, was also a non-executive director of the family business, Mackie’s of Scotland, maintaining a keen interest in ice cream developments and contributing at board level in retirement.

She was also principal taster, thanks to her sensitive palate and ability to identify small nuances in taste, be it in fresh milk and cream in the earlier milk business or more recently developing new flavours for ice cream and the latest development – Mackie’s chocolate.

Away from work she and the family enjoyed annual summer holidays in her cottage on an island near her childhood home, making the most of the outdoor life with sailing, skiing and walking. They also climbed Galdhøpiggen, Norway’s highest peak, plus Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

Later she discovered the town of Mürren in the Swiss Alps, where she acquired a second home and a whole new international group of skiing friends, and encouraged her husband to accompany her on more exotic trips – including to Machu Picchu, heli-skiing in Canada, trekking around Bhutan and polar bear-spotting in Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean.

Back home and in retirement, her lifelong love of trees led to her creating an arboretum around her Norwegian-style house on their farm at Rothienorman. She began the groundwork 20 years ago, planting a protective border of native trees, and so far the collection features 112 different species of trees from as far afield as Norway and Japan.

Synonymous with her love of the outdoors was her passion for climbing the nearby hill, Bennachie, an experience she enjoyed on more than 2,000 occasions. The morning after she died her whole family stood on the summit in her memory.

She is survived by her husband Maitland, their children Karin, Mac and Kirstin and nine grandchildren.