Obituary: Tom MacIver MBE, teacher and Scotland’s oldest man

Born: 13 June, 1907 in Wester Ross. Died: 18 April, 2014 in Kingussie, aged 106

Tom MacIver: Teacher and Britains oldest man, who retired in the 1970s and refused to go to seed

He could recall watching the Seaforth Highlanders march off from their remote heartland to serve in the Great War. He could remember the sense of futility as he witnessed a mere trickle of men return.

Tom MacIver was barely seven when the First World War began – born not long after Daphne Du Maurier, when Edward the VII was still on the throne and just a few months after the Suffragettes had stormed Westminster – but his memory remained vivid for more than a century.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He came into the world in a crofting community still lit by candles, with water drawn from a well and meals cooked over a grate. Over the next 100 years or so he would witness some of the swiftest advances of modern times, two World Wars, five monarchs and the omnipresence of the computer age.

At 106, he maintained longevity was in his genes – his great uncle was 100 – but a wee dram, a bowl of brose every day and stubbing out smoking when he took up shinty also played a part in earning him the honour of Scotland’s oldest living man.

The son of carpenter Simon MacIver and his wife Mary, he was born in the schoolhouse at Achduart in Coigeach where his mother was the schoolteacher. The fifth of her three girls and four sons, he was educated at Altandhu where they moved to when he was a small boy.

In 1912, when he was five and celebrations were being held at a gathering in nearby Achiltibuie to mark the coronation of King George V, his parents barred him from joining the party. They deemed him too young to walk the half a dozen miles to the event and as a result he missed out receiving a coronation mug like each of his elder siblings – a matter that was only rectified 97 years later when he was presented with one of the said mugs.

Growing up in the rugged beauty of the west coast, the youngster enjoyed a peaceful, quiet life though the grim details of the Great War were brought home to him more than once.

As he and his brothers were beachcombing one day they found a box that had come from the troopship the SS Laurentic, sunk by two mines north of Ireland in 1917 with the loss of more than 350 souls. The box contained the ship’s logbook. It was followed some time later by a body, washed ashore and clad only in pyjamas, thought to have been that of one of the wounded soldiers on board.

The youngsters also received a short lesson on the German involvement in the First World War when they presented their mother with a pencil, which had also been found washed up, inscribed with the words “Deutschland Uber Alles”.

MacIver, who was schooled in Coigeach until he was 14, would later write a book, Croft Remote, about a youngster called Murdo which was loosely based on his own childhood experiences in the West Highlands.

He moved from Achiltibuie to finish his education at secondary school in Ullapool before heading off to Glasgow University where he studied English and history for an arts degree.

After graduating, he completed his teacher training at Jordanhill College in Glasgow and took up his first post in 1929 at Plockton High School.

In Plockton he was the inaugural treasurer of the village hall, having attended the first meeting ever held there – in September 1934 – a member of the village’s drama club and one of the original members of Plockton Small Boat Sailing Club which he served as commodore.

He had first met his future wife Anne Davidson, the daughter of Plockton High School’s headmaster, when she was a pupil. However, he moved away from the area in 1936 to become headmaster of Kyle of Lochalsh Primary. He and Anne married four years later, in Easter Ross, setting up home at Kyle.

MacIver, who was in the Home Guard during the Second World War, re-located with his family to Banffshire, in 1947, where he was headmaster of Marnoch Primary School. A few years later he took a post in Skye as a further education officer before moving to a similar appointment in Dingwall, in 1953, covering an area that included Ross-shire and some of the outer isles.

Active in the local community, he helped to found the Ross-shire Liberal Association in 1959 and later received the MBE for his services to politics.

He and Anne moved to Evanton in 1960 but he was widowed just five years later, becoming a single father when the youngest of his three children was still just ten. He took the responsibility in his stride, often taking his younger son on trips to Glasgow with him when he attended An Commun Gaidhealach meetings.

A keen supporter of the Gaelic movement, he was a good friend of the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean and throughout his life enjoyed writing and reciting his own humorous Scots verse.

After retiring around 1970 he retained an active lifestyle, fishing, golfing, bowling and beekeeping. He regularly completed The Scotsman crossword, did Sudoku and was still reciting his poems up to a couple of years ago. For 40 years he lived in Evanton, where he was a member of the local community council, social and angling clubs. A life member of Alness Golf Club, he was also a keen gardener and was spotted still planting potatoes at the age of 102.

That same year he was invited to be the chieftain of Coigeach Gathering and recalled the story of missing out on his coronation mug at the event in 1912.

A family friend heard the tale and decided to keep an eye out for a mug, surprising him with one of the Royal mementoes that she found in an antique shop – albeit several coronations, two world wars and around three dozen British Governments later.

A fun-loving man, who always had a twinkle in his eye and refused to “go to seed”, latterly he lived with his daughter in Muir of Ord, where he was tickled to be known as Scotland’s oldest man and delighted in the company of people of all generations.

He is survived by his children Iain, Mairi and Colin, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and a large extended family.