Scotland’s last lighthouse keeper dies aged 75
Angus Hutchison, MBE, was the last man to leave the country’s last manned lighthouse on Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland, in 1998.
Automation brought to an end a 200-year tradition and a way of life his family had known for over a century.
Mr Hutchison, who went on to become a councillor on Orkney, died on Monday in the intensive care unit of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after a short illness.
Tributes have been paid to the well-known islander, and a funeral service will take place at the Church of Scotland in Stromness on Saturday.
His daughter Gail said on Facebook: “My dad was a very special man.”
Councillor James Stockan added: “Angus was an active man who’d made a very positive contribution to his community.
“Angus always wanted the best results for the people he served. He was a grounded, well thought of, man - and a man of great humour and fun. His laughter often filled the Council.”
After Fair Isle became automated on 31 March 1998, Mr Hutchison, who had been due to retire that year, recognised the decision due to technology, but mourned the passing of the human element.
He was the fourth generation of his family to serve the Northern Lighthouse Board – set up in 1786 – following his great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncle. Together they chalked up around 160 years of service.
Following the historic moment, he said: “It just happened to be my watch when it happened. It was a sad day, but a day we were all very proud of.
“It was something we did not want to accept, but something that we knew.
“When the Russians and Americans put satellites up in space that was the beginning of the end.”
He said boats soon had GPS, adding: “Vessels don’t need to look out of the window now to see the Fair Isle light. They know where they are.
“That was the position we found ourselves in. The inevitable was bound to happen.
Technology would do away with people like myself and every other lighthouse keeper.”
“It has been a way of life for my family and it’s sad to see that end.”
His own son, Tommy, was unable to follow the tradition as the board was no longer recruiting because of the automation programme.
Mr Hutchison, who was born in Stromness in 1937, was educated in Orkney, the Isle of Man and Shetland.
He had a career at sea before joining the lighthouse board in 1962 and served at various locations, including Skule Skerry, off Orkney, the most isolated lighthouse in Europe, and two stints at Fair Isle over 14 years.
The keen golfer added at the time: “It’s not so bad for me as I was retiring anyway, but I feel for my younger colleagues who are being made redundant and it’s not easy to get new jobs when you are in your early 50s
“It’s also something the mariner will have to get used to, the fact that there is no longer a human presence in these places.
“It seems to be the modern day thinking to take men out, similar to the coastguard service in what we consider to be important stations. It makes one wonder.”
Mr Hutchison received an MBE in 1999 in recognition of his work for the Northern Lighthouse Board. He went on to serve with Orkney Islands Council from 2003 to 2007.
He served as vice-chair of the social work committee and vice-chair of the Area Licensing Board. Between 2008 and 2010 he served as Convener of the Licensing Forum.
He was married to Yvonne and had two children, Gail and Tommy, and four grandchildren.
The Fair Isle South lighthouse has endured some of Scotland’s fiercest weather and wartime bombing raids in its 100-year history. During an air attack in December 1941 the wife of an assistant keeper was killed and her baby daughter injured. Six weeks later the wife and daughter of the principal keeper were killed in a second attack.
In the days before helicopters relieved the men after their four weeks of duty, Mr Hutchison was once stranded for nine or ten weeks at a time when the lighthouse boat could not sail because of the appalling conditions.
The Fair Isle Lighthouse was also the last to have its foghorn dismantled in 2005. Its light still operates, and the beam, consisting of four flashes every 30 seconds, can be seen from at least as far as Orkney, some 25 miles away.
All the lights which protect Scotland’s coastline are now controlled in Edinburgh.
The lighthouse board, created by an act of parliament in 1786 authorising the construction of four lighthouses, is now responsible for a network of 200 lights, including the Fair Isle South installation which was established in 1892.
Daughter Gail Hutchison said: “We were very proud of him. He was a larger than life person.
“He was Stromness born and bred and a fourth generation lighthouse keeper. He was not only a lighthouse keeper for 36 years, but a councillor and for a very long time chairman of the TRansport and General Workers Union for the lighthouse board.
“He was proud to be the last keeper in Scotland and was delighted to have met the Princess Royal, the patron of the board, on his last day.
“He fought his corner in defence of the people he loved. He was a kind and generous man.”
Mr Hutchison had rheumatoid arthritis and type two diabetes and suffered a suspected stroke two weeks ago.
His daughter said: “My dad wasn’t really my dad any more. He always said it was not the dog in the fight but the fight in the do, but he basically had no fight left.”