Rev Jack MacArthur

THE Rev Jack MacArthur was a man of wide-ranging talents who gave a lifetime of service to his native Gaelic communty in various ways, whether in politics, education, community development, or the parish ministry of the Church of


Jack was also a man of warmth and compassion, with a shrewd and incisive sense of humour.

He was brought up the son of a primary school headmaster in Lewis, a fact which might be expected to explain his attitudes, though most of his commitments came from personal experience in later life. His early upbringing was not particularly religious, until an evangelical campaign swept Lewis in 1949 and left an indelible impact that stayed with him.

From a secondary education at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, he went to Glasgow University at a time of lively political activity there. He whetted his debating skills against such adversaries (and subsequent friends) as John Smith and Donald Dewar - ironically under the SNP banner. He became president of the SRC but illness cut short his arts course and he returned to work in an accountant's office in Stornoway, a seeming setback which he used to widen his skills.

But the evangelical call stayed strong and drew him to New College, Edinburgh, where he studied for three years. His first charge as a minister in 1966 was in Durness, Sutherland, where his commitment to Gaelic hardened when an elderly stroke victim lapsed completely into her first and native language. He later recalled: ''To be able to pray with her in Gaelic was not only a vital part of my ministry, but it had a profound effect on my own attitudes. I discovered just how deeply the language was embedded on the psyche and the unconscious, and that in turn spoke of the culture and the traditions.''

His Sutherland experience also swung him to socialism. He felt the power of the landlord regime - albeit a relatively benign and paternalistic one - stifled community initiative and determined to try to change that. He was elected to the former Sutherland County Council and quickly became its education convener.

Jack had moved to a charge in Carloway in his native Lewis when local government re-organisation created Comhairle nan Eilean (Western Isles Council) in 1974. He became one of its first councillors and its education convener, one of a band of committed and farsighted people who decreed that Gaelic should have equal status with English in its affairs, and a major driving force in the creation of its bilingual

education policy.

He was also heavily committed to a variety of community initiatives, ranging from multi-purpose co-operatives to local historical societies, backed by the council and the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It was a radical and creative period in Highland development that has had a lasting impact, and Jack was one of its main instigators.

He fought hard with a sceptical Scottish Office for the establishment of a community school in Benbecula that became a model for such schools in rural areas.

In 1979 he was called to Strath parish in Skye and was quickly elected to Highland Regional Council and again became education convener. Again the familiar pattern of creative bilingual promotion in schools harnessed to active community development emerged. But on a wider platform, the demand on his time and skills intensified; his ability to nurse potentially contentious issues through committees and weld different organisations to a common purpose was particularly


He was a member of the group which produced the 1982 Cor na Gaidhlig report on which much subsequent linguistic progress has been based, and he was involved in developing pan-European links on language and communal issues. For two years he was president of the European Bureau for Lesser Used


Inevitably such wide-ranging activity, involving much time and travel, clashed with

equally demanding parish duties and for a while he left the active ministry to concentrate on politics. He stood as Labour candidate for the

Highland seat in the mid-80s but on being defeated decided to return to the parish ministry and moved to St Columba's Gaelic church in Glasgow, where he served until ill-health led to his retirement six

years ago.

Since his death at the age of 64 earlier this week, there have been many tributes to him. ''Jack very quickly proved himself to be a highly articulate and strategic thinker, with strong ideas on how communities should be developed. He was a most capable ambassador for us,'' said Sandy Matheson, former Western Isles convener. Brian Wilson, energy minister at the department of trade, was his agent during the European election campaign. ''Jack was a very shrewd and effective operator, easily on a par with his Glasgow University contemporaries who went into national politics. His work for Gaelic and for education was outstanding,'' he said.

''But he had another dimension. The most impressive stories I knew about him involved what he did for people privately. He possessed that very rare skill of being able to talk meaningfully to individuals when they needed it most.''

With his death at a relatively early age, Gaeldom has lost one of its ablest and most committed advocates, but his early pioneering work, and his unremitting diligence in consolidating it, will continue to bear fruit.

He is survived by his wife, Cathie, two daughters, and a son. The funeral service is at St Columba's Church in St Vincent Street, Glasgow, at 9.45am tomorrow.

Rev Jack MacArthur; born 1938, died December 9, 2002.