In his 17 years with Midlothian Council, Mr MacKay, 61, improved the lives of thousands of children. He raised attainment levels, helped oversee the building of 15 new schools and supported teaching staff in producing well-educated, well-rounded, confident individuals.
His retirement, therefore, was greeted with a mix of sadness and warmth at a recent meeting of the full council, as councillors and colleagues paid tribute to an effective leader with a calm manner, open door and unwavering commitment to both staff and pupils.
Speaking on behalf of the council, Provost Adam Montgomery thanked Mr MacKay for his years of service.
In particular, he paid tribute to his contribution to achieving the council’s new-build schools programme, which he said was “absolutely brilliant”. He wished Mr MacKay a “long and happy retirement”.
A former primary and headteacher in Fife, Mr MacKay became an adviser in primary education with the old Lothian Regional Council (LRC).
He was appointed as the assistant director of education with LRC before taking up his post as the director of education with Midlothian in 1995, just as the local authority was being set up.
Asked what achievements he was most proud of, he said raising attainment levels and building or upgrading schools to make sure as many pupils as possible were educated in modern, fit-for-purpose facilities.
“In 1996, after local government reorganisation, we inherited a fairly poor school estate,” he said.
“We’ve got some way to go but now it’s, if not the best, then one of the best in the country.”
There has been an investment of £150.1 million in Midlothian schools since 2003. This includes the new primary for Hopefield and the Lasswade Community Campus, both currently under construction.
Mr MacKay still lives in Fife, where he first started his teaching career, with his wife Ann.
Ann is a retired primary teacher and the couple have two sons; Euan, a solicitor, and Ruaidhri, a primary teacher.
Mr MacKay is looking forward to spending more time with his family. He already has a skiing trip booked and says his goal is to take a train from Inverkeithing to China.
While he won’t miss the daily ritual of the alarm clock heralding his early start, he will miss Midlothian.
He says: “It’s been a real honour and a pleasure to work in Midlothian. Although I spent the first 23 years of my life in Edinburgh before moving to Fife, the place I know most about is still Midlothian. That’s where my heart lies. I will really miss not being involved.”