Flight Lieutenant Ronald Mackay, RAF officer and entrepreneur: Born, 26 June 1917 in Edinburgh. Died: 4 August 2018 in Edinburgh, aged 101
The slicing tailplane of a doomed Spitfire, hurtling in flames to earth amid the Battle of Britain in September 1940, would scar 23-year-old Pilot Officer Ronnie Mackay for life – yet he would live to be one of Edinburgh’s most respected businessmen and pass his century as one of the last half-dozen survivors of “The Few”.
Horribly bloodied in the stomach by the horizontal blade-shaped metal, which caught him as he baled out, he managed nevertheless to get his fingers to the ripcord to open his parachute, and descend without further injury, though the Spitfire, manufactured only a few months before, would be a write-off.
The Edinburgh-born airman, who as war loomed in 1938 had joined the Auxiliary Air Force and trained with No 603 (City of Edinburgh) squadron, was only seven miles from base at St Eval, Cornwall, on his return from a routine sortie. It was September 25th, and he had been on operations with No 234 Squadron for a week, joining it at Middle Wallop, Hampshire . The squadron was being rested at St Eval after taking a battering and losing its commanding officer. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but the aircraft, when being flown by a Polish pilot only days before, had been damaged in combat with a Me109.
Mackay retained no memory of how he was rescued – but he was taken to the Royal Cornwall Infirmary in Truro, and there patched up enough to begin a year’s convalescence. This was less than restful, as he went to London and stayed during the 1940-41Blitz – before eagerly presenting himself to fly again. On attending for assessment, he got a shock: being found to black out too easily, he was told he must limit his piloting to flights no faster than 150mph.
Despite his disappointment, that decision heralded what would be for him, by his own description, “a lovely war”: he was assigned to be personal pilot to the General Officer Commanding Scotland – and, in relatively stately Lysanders – top speed just over 200 mph–and other aircraft, would carry many VIPs.
By this time he also had a wife: he married, in 1942, Yvonne Hills, an actress from Elstree, Hertfordshire, whom he had met during his recuperation in London. “He was a stage-door johnny”, it is recalled of him. This was her war-work, under the aegis of ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association.
Mackay, promoted to Flight Lieutenant, also assisted in the transporting, for parties whose identities are not recorded, of precious parcels of coveted foods, lightly touching down to deliver such things as eggs and butter.
For a time he commanded a Polish Lysander squadron.
Mackay stayed in the RAF until 1946. On leaving he became senior partner in the shipping and travel company that had been founded by his father, William, and uncle, George, and determinedly kept going throughout the war by his mother, William’s widow Ethel.
Mackay Brothers, from its headquarters in Edinburgh’s Hanover Street, was poised to expand, and Mackay, an astute businessman, lost no time in establishing a car hire enterprise when Yvonne found she could not get a cab to the theatre.
That arm of the company grew to a fleet of 1,000 across Britain, and Mackay would take pains to inspect the big black Austin Princesses to see that they were not being misused at odd hours, such as late at night. His brother and only sibling, Alastair, acted as the company accountant. Ethel maintained influence until her death in 1965. The brothers continued the company’s prosperity, including via a popular air charter business between Scotland and Toronto in Canada.
Ronnie and Yvonne had divorced in 1953, and he married, in 1958, Anne Wards Allan, a nurse.
A disagreement between the brothers in the late 1970s led Ronnie Mackay to a new venture: the founding of the travel group Globespan. Mackay Bros was dissolved, according to public records, in 1985.
The quiet, even shy, businessman’s sense of humour proved an asset: told – while seeking a licence for the new entity from the Civil Aviation Authority – that a “belt and braces” approach to capitalisation was required, Mackay replied that this was not so, “as we in Scotland wear the kilt”. Laughter followed, and the licence was granted.
Mackay’s partner, Tom Dalrymple, eventually bought out the business, and Mackay enjoyed a comfortable retirement – though he remained ever frugal in his outlook, telling an acquaintance that to indulge himself with a Rolls Royce would have meant paying a price that would have bought ten Ford Anglias for the car hire fleet.
Mackay and Anne divorced, and he married, in 1986, Jessie Wightman, nee Paxton, acquiring stepchildren Isobel, William, and Campbell. The couple would live at Fettes Rise, not far from Mackay’s childhood home at Inverleith Terrace. Jessie, with his son, Reay, his daughter Karyn, and Isobel and William, survives him.
Mackay, educated at Edinburgh Academy and having studied, until the war interrupted him, law and commerce at Edinburgh University, continued to be, in his later years, a voracious reader.
A former rugby player who was talented at squash and had played in Scotland’s second team, as well as having been a founder member of the Forth Canoe Club, he was a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and continued to drive his blue Toyota Corolla until after passing the age of 100 in 2017.