Obituary: James Macnab of Macnab, Chief who did much to revive Clan Macnab’s fortunes worldwide

James Macnab of Macnab
James Macnab of Macnab
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Born: 14 April, 1926, in Killin. Died: 11 January, 2013, in Leuchars, aged 86

JAMES Macnab of Macnab was the 23rd Chief of the Clan and known widely as The Macnab. He was a resolute and enthusiastic supporter of the clan’s traditions throughout his life and travelled widely to meet clan members – especially in Canada and the Far East. Although a small clan, Macnab did much to revive its membership at home and abroad.

He saw service in the late Forties, first with the Seaforth Higlanders and then with the Federation of Malaya Police, where he rose to acting Deputy Superintendent.

Macnab showed a fine understanding of the clan’s history when he was interviewed by STV at The Gathering in Holyrood Park in 2009. With a remarkable fluency for dates and the clan’s, at times, complex history, Macnab told the interviewer with a delightful twinkle in his eye: “We’re not a big clan and throughout Scottish history we have a bit of a problem – usually fighting on the losing side of any major battle. We didn’t have much time for Robert the Bruce. Not on the right side at Bannockburn either. Or Culloden.”

James Charles Macnab of Macnab was the elder son of Colonel James Alexander Macnab and succeeded his great-uncle as clan chief in 1970. The family home was Kinnell House, Killin, Perthshire, but due to death duties, much of the estate had to be sold.

Macnab was educated at Radley College in Berkshire and then, from 1940, attended Ashbury College, Ottawa. Aged 17, Macnab joined the Royal Air Force at Monkton, New Brunswick, but returned to Scotland in 1944 to train with the Scots Guards at Caterham. In 1945, Macnab was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 
Seaforth Highlanders in Elgin. Later that year, he embarked for the Far East, serving initially in Bombay.

Later, he was stationed at Bangalore and Madras and latterly experiencing active service during local unrest in Java. After a spell in hospital for a severe illness, he returned to the UK and in 1948 was demobbed.

During his years with the Malayan police, Macnab demonstrated a sure grasp of both domestic and national affairs throughout the federation.

After retirement in 1957, he returned to Scotland and 
managed the estate for his great-uncle. He was (1960-64) a Captain into the Seaforth Highlanders (Territorial Army) and a justice of the peace for Perthshire (1968-1975) and then for Stirling (1975-1986).

Macnab played a prominent part in all aspects of life throughout Perthshire – a county to which he was devoted. In 1961, he was elected to the Western Perthshire District Council, and from 1964 to 1975 was a county councillor for Perth and Kinross. He became a member of the Central Regional Council in 1978, serving with much distinction until 1982. His knowledge of Far East financial matters led to his appointment as an executive consultant with Hill Samuel Investment Services from 1982 to 1992.

His uncle had bought Kinnell House in 1949 and a large part of the former Macnab estate. When Macnab succeeded his great-uncle in 1970 as chief, he had to make major decisions how best to reorganise the family’s financial affairs. To cover the death duties, Macnab was forced to sell Kinnell House in 1978 and a large section of the estate. He lived at Finlarig and farmed at Tirarthur in Killin, until 1985, when he moved to Leuchars.

Macnab had married the Hon Diana Mary Anstruther-Gray, daughter of Lord Kilmany in St Andrews Episcopal Church, St Andrews, in 1959. The couple were devoted to furthering the fortunes of the Clan Macnab and took pride in wearing the tartan at all gatherings and ceilidhs. Their trips to the Far East were, for the couple, particularly memorable as it gave them the opportunity to revisit old friends, clan members and former colleagues with the police force. The visits to Canada also had a special significance for Macnab – not only had he been partly educated there, but also a former chief had lived there: so clan connections went back many years.

Macnab was keen to resuscitate the Macnab Clan Society and, along with his son, announced at the 2009 Gathering that clan members could now join on the clan’s website. Macnab said with obvious enthusiasm: “We’ve got a hell of a lot of names in our books today.”

The Macnab was a keen shot, hill walker and enjoyed country pursuits. He was a member of the Royal Company of Archers.

His wife predeceased him and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters. Their elder son, James William Archibald Macnab, is the 24th Chief of Clan MacNab.