Amid the sadness of an old friend’s death, however expected, it is painful and difficult to reflect on his life, however full and well lived. Angus Macleod was slight of stature, but a giant in his chosen profession of journalism and tributes have been paid to him from all parts of the political spectrum.
A career that spanned more than 40 years took him from reporting the Mod for The Scotsman to being Scottish editor of The Times.
In between, he became the political editor of the Sunday Mail, and of the Daily Express and The Times in Scotland before taking over the helm as Scottish editor last April.
Angus’s enthusiasm for a story and kindness to young journalists endeared him to his staff. But it was his political acumen that gained him the respect – and sometimes apprehension – of politicians of whatever hue.
He always knew what question to ask and was terrier-like in his determination to get at the truth. He was trenchant in his opinions. If Angus said it, it must be true and he would brook no opposition.
But he had a pawky, self-deprecating sense of humour that, along with his inimitable Hebridean accent, endeared him to listeners to his Saturday morning newspaper review on Radio Scotland and to a legion of friends across the country.
He was never afraid to tell a joke at his own expense or indeed to be the butt of another’s humour.
One lunchtime in the pub (in the days when journalists still took a refreshment) Angus remarked that he was going home to the islands for the weekend to take a girlfriend to a dance. “That’ll be Last Tango In Harris, then,” quipped a wag. Angus, whose command of English knew few equals, replied with an Anglo-Saxon expletive.
In his Scotsman days, having received a large advance on expenses to cover the Mod, Angus was at a loss as to how to justify the money he had spent. His expenses sheet merely recorded: “To entertaining Lochgilphead Choir … £270.”
Educated at Edinburgh University, Angus was rightly described as one of the most acute observers of the Scottish and UK political scenes. He was held in huge respect by prime ministers, first ministers, MSPs and MPs alike, not to mention the gallery of pressmen, both at Holyrood and Westminster.
Alistair Darling, former UK chancellor and leader of the Scottish independence referendum’s Better Together campaign, said: “Angus Macleod was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He is a huge loss to journalism.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, said: “Every politician knew a call from Angus would bring searching questions which would demand an answer. It was, however, never an unwelcome call.
“He was a true gentleman who brought an authentic Highland flavour to our politics. He will be missed.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson described him as “wonderful and irascible in almost equal measure”.
And First Minister Alex Salmond described Angus Macleod as “a thoughtful and insightful journalist who will be missed right across the political divide”.
His kindness and encouragement for younger journalists are well documented, and a moving tribute to him was paid by his old Edinburgh University friend, Times Education Supplement columnist Sean McPartlin.
He said that, as a teacher, he was often asked by pupils whether they should consider a career as a journalist.
He said that “thanks to people like Angus Macleod”, he was always confident in encouraging them to follow their dream and to keep believing that words, and journalism, can make a real difference.
Sean added: “He was a credit to all he represented – as a writer, a journalist, and a kind man of principle and wisdom.
“Scotland is worse off for his loss and his family should be aware that many folk they do not know will be sad today and sharing their grief.”
In a friendship that spanned more than 20 years, I had many a robust discussion with Angus Macleod. He gave no quarter. Latterly, as neighbours, we, along with his beloved wife Jan, were members of the same book club.
Angus’s knowledge and appreciation of literature were as great as his encyclopaedic grasp of all things political. Needless to say, his views on the style and content of the books we discussed were equally robust.
On the evening of the day he died, Angus and Jan were due to host a meeting of the book club. That morning Jan e-mailed to say that Angus, who had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, had been admitted to hospital a week before and that his blood pressure had now sunk so low that survival was unlikely. A few short hours later, he died.
It has been said that Angus, whose health had been less than robust for a great many years, had only one enemy – himself. That assessment dated to a time when not only were newspapers at their best, but we who produced them perhaps supped too well and too often from the cup of life.
But that was then and a different culture now prevails.
Angus Macleod was a fine and talented journalist. Newspapers and his many friends are the poorer for his passing.