Rev Jack MacArthur

ONE of the best-known figures in local government in the Highlands and Islands, the Rev Jack MacArthur, has died in hospital in Glasgow. He was 64.

Mr MacArthur had the unique distinction of being chairman of the education committee of three local authorities - Sutherland County Council, the Western Isles Islands Council and Highland Regional Council.

A native of the South Lochs area of Lewis, Jack MacArthur became seriously interested in politics while at Glasgow University. He was president of the University Union, where his contemporaries were Donald Dewar and John Smith, who went on to become major figures in the Labour Party.

His parish ministry in the Church of Scotland began in 1966 at Kinlochbervie, Sutherland, where he became actively involved in community politics for the first time. He was chairman of the education committee before moving to Carloway, Lewis, in 1971.

He became a founding member of the new all-purpose authority set up in the Western Isles in 1974, when the islands for the first time ceased to be governed from mainland centres of power. Until then, Lewis was part of the Dingwall-run Ross and Cromarty County Council, while the other islands to the south had been under the auspices of Inverness.

Once again, Mr MacArthur became chairman of the education committee, a task he undertook with relish till he resigned his Carloway charge and moved to Broadford, Skye, in 1979. Before long he had been elected to Highland Regional Council with a huge majority and became chairman of the education committee shortly afterwards.

After ten years in Skye he accepted a call to St Columba’s Gaelic Church in Glasgow, where he remained until he retired because of ill health six years ago. The family continued to live in Glasgow.

Former colleagues were quick to pay tribute to Mr MacArthur. Sandy Matheson, a former convener of the Western Isles Council, described him as a major political figure in three local government areas.

Said Mr Matheson: "Jack very quickly proved himself to be a highly articulate and strategic thinker, with strong ideas on how communities should be developed. That was the case not only here, but also in other areas where he continued to give sterling service for years after leaving here.

"He was here at a very vulnerable time for the Western Isles, when many people in the central belt and in the Scottish Office questioned whether the islands had the talent to be successful as a local authority. In that sense, Jack was a most capable ambassador for us."

Another colleague on the council and in the Kirk ministry, the Rev Roderick MacKinnon, paid tribute to Mr MacArthur’s work. "As a preacher Jack was outstanding, with a natural eloquence in both Gaelic and English " said Mr MacKinnon. "He had an unusual combination of left-wing politics and right-wing theology, with a particular gift for speaking to children. You very often don’t get that combination in a preacher who’s also an active politician.

"He was a most astute politican with a keen eye for the grassroots as a councillor. As chairman of education, he played a major part in the campaign to build a state-of-the-art six-year secondary school in Benbecula. It was during his time in the chair that the campaign began, although the school itself wasn’t built till a number of years later. Jack MacArthur simply had some exceptional qualities."

Mr MacArthur is survived by his wife, Cathie, two daughters and a son.