Obituary: Hector McPhee, horse dealer
Born: 11 July, 1946, in Aberdeen. Died: 16 September, 2012 in Keith, Moray, aged 66.
My friend Hector McPhee, who has died, aged 66 years, was one of the few remaining small-scale horse- dealers in the north-east. He also devoted the last 30 years building and renovating traditional wagons and carts.
When he was eight days old he was “on the road” with his parents with horse and cart, trying to make a living in a fast-changing post-war Scotland. By the end of the 1950s horse-dealing, hawking and tinsmithing were rapidly in decline as mass production and mass consummerism challenged the Travellers’ traditional way of life.
Hector often reflected on his experience as a young Traveller, when families were still welcome in the countryside and were often offered casual work, places to stop over, grazing for the horses and a site for the bow-tent.
Although Hector, like the majority of Travellers, chose to settle in communities across Scotland, he never stopped encouraging his children and grandchildren to take to the road whenever they could.
Hector chose to live in a council house in Keith, where he lived with his late wife, Mary, for 35 years.
Hector was proud to point out a common misconception within the wider community: that when a Traveller settles in a house, or official council site, they are no longer Travellers. He maintained Travelling
people are a distinct ethnic group with ancient nomadic origins.
Hector was always keen to make clear: “We are not gypsies, we are Celtic with Scottish, Irish and Gaelic links going back hundreds of years… and we are not going away any time soon.”
All Travellers are proud, strong and fiercely protective of their families and culture; they don’t want it to disappear. The traditional way of life “on the road” is all but gone. The old crafts that were once in demand from a rural society which relied upon the Travellers’ annual visits for seasonal work no longer exist.
It is worth a thought, however, that the Travellers’ loss of a traditional way of life is a microcosim of what has happend in the wider community. Until his death, Hector’s home in Keith was always full of “craic” and debate about the politics of Travellers’ life.
Hector was always writing to prime ministers, first ministers and local authorities with suggestions and complaints about the plight of Travellers. The main issue in recent years was the lack of and closure of “stopover sites” where families could safely stop for a few days “legally” without being harassed by the authorities.
Today, there are estimated to be around 15,000 Travellers living in the settled community with a further 2,000 living on official council or private sites. What has been increasingly of interest to older Travellers is how many more young Travellers are taking to the road each spring, perhaps a bit disenchanted with the settled life. I am sure this would have pleased Hector McPhee.
Hector is survived by his 12 children, 36 grandchildren and 11 great grand-children and his great friend Margaret MacPhee.
by Graham Noble
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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