Obituary: Maitland Mackie, CBE, farmer and businessman

Maitland Mackie: Farmer, university rector and forward-thinking entrepreneur for whom family always came first
Maitland Mackie: Farmer, university rector and forward-thinking entrepreneur for whom family always came first
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Born: 21 September, 1937, in Rothienorman. Died: 31 May, 2014, in Rothienorman, aged 76

WITH the death of Maitland Mackie, Scotland has lost one of its more innovative, colourful and occasionally controversial characters. His fertile imagination produced new ways of working along with a social conscience.

Throughout his life he was also a progressive and forward-thinking businessman and entrepreneur; although he always claimed he did not know what that latter word meant.

Along with his varied business and public life, he was also a committed family man – especially latterly as the patriarch of the extended Mackie clan. As chairman of Mackie’s ice cream, he saw it blossom into an international company producing more than ten million litres of luxury ice cream annually.

As a family man, whenever journalists were reporting on the success of the company, he always emphasised that he was only the chairman. He claimed the real credit for any success had to go to his son Mac Mackie the managing director, and his two daughters, Karin and Kirstin, who are directors of the business.

He was never an office-bound businessman, enjoying engaging with the workforce whom he saw as part of the team. It was no surprise with this sort of rapport that Mackies was one of the first companies in Scotland to be awarded Investors in People accolade. His comment on his role in the business was a modest “I discovered that the less I did, the better the business did. It was a very humbling experience” but as is easily recognised, it was also the observation of a proud parent.

As part of the Mackie clan, he was also proud of the achievements of his ancestors with grandfather Maitland taking on the farm at North Ythsie, prior to his father, also Maitland, expanding to take on Westertown. Maitland, along with his son Mac, then increased the farming enterprise to 1,600 acres as well as Maitland taking on many public duties. Maitland claimed his forefathers’ innovative gene had helped to create the ice cream business as the firm started producing ice cream in 1986 when the trend for semi-skimmed milk became more prevalent. The natural conclusion, he said, was to turn the cream removed from the milk into ice cream. Prior to making ice cream, the firm was involved in milk distribution with more than 250 employees involved in bottling and delivering milk in the north-east of Scotland, before that part of the business was sold.

Involved from an early age in farming politics, Maitland rose to become a vice-president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, where his legacy saw the organisation move from a purely political role towards market-orientated self-help policies.

Part of this was as the architect of the farm assurance movement in Scotland; a scheme now universally adopted by the livestock industry where it has given Scottish red meat an edge in the marketplace.

In his drive to assuring the provenance of food produced in Scotland, Maitland founded the Scottish Pig Industry Initiative. This pioneered the concept of the industry self- disciplining itself to best practice under farm assurance inspection schemes. For this work he received the David Black Award – the top honour in the UK pig industry. He was appointed CBE for his wider services to agriculture in 1991.

Further farming appointments followed. He was a member of the Agriculture Food Research Council, a former governor of the Rowett Research Institute, which his father had been instrumental in founding, and a former chairman of the Scottish Agricultural College Board. This latter role brought controversy as Maitland wanted to introduce some rationalisation to this educational establishment with its many campuses ranged around Scotland. More recently, as the various rural colleges have been merged into SRUC, he privately remarked the only thing he got wrong was the timing; a not unusual experience for such a forward thinker.

His own education came at Aberdeen University where he graduated with a BSc in 1958 and an MA 1971. In 1996, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (LLD) and his link with the university continued to the present day as rector – a role in which he took particular pleasure.

One of Maitland’s duties as an agricultural student was to protect the Charity Queen of 1958 as she was taken around the streets in an open carriage. He not only looked after Halldis, the attractive young Norwegian medical student who was Queen, they later enjoyed a long and happy marriage only broken earlier this year with the death of Halldis. Their years together included many trips to her homeland, where they adopted the Scandinavian style of living in a summer hytte.

He was always a dedicated and inspirational family man. His nine grandchildren were often challenged with projects as varied as skinning a rabbit through to reciting Tam O’ Shanter. Victory might have cost Maitland a little financially, but it also brought longer-term rewards with widely skilled and talented offspring.

His undiluted enthusiasm for innovation soon saw him become engrossed in renewable energy and, in particular, wind power. The family farm is now dominated by three turbines, which provide the power for the business. When these proved successful, he took on the role of an evangelist for this sustainable power system. This saw him take on the Forestry Commission over its decision to sell to large companies the rights to build turbines on land owned by the nation.

Maitland’s vision of wind power was for local communities to be both the drivers and beneficiaries of this renewable source of energy. Time will tell if this is another of his visions that will prove to be true.

A longtime family friend and former managing director of the Mackie farm and milk business, Brian Pack recalled their times together as “a great experience”. He continued: “He was one of the first to see how important information was for farmers and businesses. We set up Farmdata, which was a forerunner in the field of computerised information for farmers. He was such a dynamic character, with lots of new ideas always accompanied with tremendous ambition. He will be missed by the whole Scottish farming industry.”

Maitland travelled far in his life, but his home was always at Westertown and that is fittingly where he will be buried on Friday at 1:30pm.