Obituary: James MacGillivray, procurator fiscal
James MacGillivray, who died recently aged 87, was formerly Procurator Fiscal for Lochaber based in Fort William. Before entering the legal profession he had been a senior police officer in Uganda in the years prior to its gaining independence in the 1960s. For the whole of his professional career, he acted in the service of the law and justice, and those who knew him have testified to his dedication to upholding the principles of fairness and humanity.
James Ian MacKenzie MacGillivray was born in Kirkcaldy, where his father, Ian MacGillivray, was a local government education officer. In 1937 the family moved to Dumfries when his father was appointed Director of Education. At Dumfries Academy, Jim excelled in sports, especially rugby, being tall and powerfully built from an early age, and he became Head Boy of the school.
During his two years of National Service he was rapidly promoted and reached the rank of Sergeant Instructor in the Royal Artillery.
On returning to civilian life, Jim soon found the role of a police constable in rural Dumfriesshire to be rather lacking in stimulation and in 1950 he departed for a new life as an Inspector of Police in the then Protectorate of Uganda in East Africa.
For the next 15 years this was the sphere of his professional and family life. He married a nurse from Yorkshire, Bertha McKnight, and they had two daughters, Jean and Catriona. Promotion in the Uganda Police came steadily, with postings to different areas of the country, until on the eve of Uganda Independence he was a Senior Superintendent, with the de facto rank of Assistant Commissioner as the commander of the Police Special Force.
Unfortunately, Uganda politics had begun to take an unsavoury turn, and Jim returned to Scotland with his family, leaving the force he had helped to create in the unscrupulous hands of corrupt politicians, and later a savage dictator. In the years that followed, he felt deeply about the brutalisation of the African land he had served honestly and impartially.
Back home there was never any question about the direction his life and career would take. After taking a law degree at Edinburgh University, adorned with distinctions and medals, he served briefly as a solicitor in Perth and Grantown-on-Spey, before entering the Procurator Fiscal Service and working in the Sheriff Courts at Glasgow, Inverness and Dingwall. From his early boyhood, when he and his younger brother Alan had spent many summer holidays with his MacKenzie maternal grandparents in the Wester Ross village of Lochcarron, Jim had nourished a passion for the Highlands and for Gaelic culture. As time passed, Jim drew closer to his goal of returning to live in Lochcarron. After some years of family life in both Grantown-on-Spey and Newton of Ferintosh on the Black Isle, he was able to realise his dream of building a permanent home only a few yards from his grandparents’ house in Dail a’Chladaich, Lochcarron.
Sadly, the completion of the house and Jim’s appointment as Fiscal in Fort William coincided with the serious illness and death of Bertha after 24 years of marriage. In the four years of loneliness that followed, Jim built up his reputation as a fair and kindly prosecutor of the law in Lochaber, four years that culminated in his meeting and marrying Sandra MacRae from Duirinish beside Kyle of Lochalsh, who worked in the Fort William Bank of Scotland. They had 12 happy years together before Sandra’s sudden death in 1994. Once again Jim was alone as he entered retirement in Lochcarron. Yet he was part of a network of cousins and friends in the district stemming from his MacKenzie family connections. Within his own wider family, he became a repository of family knowledge and local lore. He kept a hospitable house for visiting friends and family, and “The Fiscal” became a well-known figure in the village.
His later years were rendered happy by the attentions and love of his daughters, by his two granddaughters, Holly and Maeve, to whom he was “Seanair” (Grandpa), and by a new companion, Betty Nicholson. Even in the last months of life, in his growing physical infirmity, he would still be seen trundling up the village on his “buggy” to fetch his papers and pay a refreshment call to the Lochcarron Hotel.
James MacGillivray is remembered as a kind and loving parent and as a man who forged longterm and enduring friendships with his colleagues and their families from all walks of life. He died in the Broadford Hospital, Skye, after a fall in his home and he is buried beside his dear Sandra and the ashes of Bertha in the East Cemetery, Lochcarron.
He is survived by his daughters, Jean and Catriona, his grand-daughters Holly and Maeve, and his brother, Alan.