Farmer, businessman and university rector

Farmer, businessman and university rector

Born: September 21, 1937; Died: May 31, 2014

Maitland Mackie, who has died aged 76, was the gregarious businessman whose intelligent management of the family agricultural business steered it from traditional farm to Scotland's leading premium ice cream producer.

The third generation of an entrepreneurial farming family - always headed by a Maitland - he was a passionate supporter of the Scottish agricultural industry and an enthusiastic advocate of renewable energy.

After passing the reins to his son Mac, the fourth generation Maitland Mackie, he continued as chairman of the family business and was currently Lord Rector of Aberdeen University, his alma mater and the setting for his introduction to his Norwegian wife Halldis, the Aberdeen's Student Charities' Queen of 1958.

The young Maitland was the charities' campaign convener that year and their meeting led to an enormously successful partnership, both in their private and professional lives, that was far greater than the sum of their parts and that endured until her death less than four months ago.

Born on the family farm near Rothienorman in Aberdeenshire, Maitland Mackie was the son of Sir Maitland Mackie, whose father Dr Maitland Mackie had farmed in the North-east from the late 19th century.

Educated at Daviot Primary and Aberdeen Grammar Schools, he graduated from Aberdeen University with a BSc in agriculture in 1958. He and Halldis, who was a medical student when they met, married at Fana Kirke  just outside her hometown of Bergen, in the summer of 1961. He began work with the family business that year while his new wife continued her studies, graduating as a doctor two years later and going on to become a community GP in Insch near their home in rural Aberdeenshire.

Whilst running the family business, which he developed to become a major farm and milk retailing business with a multi-million pound turnover providing jobs for 250 locals, he returned to Aberdeen University to study for an MA in economics which he achieved in 1971.

To ensure the business remained competitive, in 1994 he rationalised the venture consolidating the farming into two large land blocks. He also sold the milk retailing section and invested in a modern fine foods ice cream dairy within the old farm buildings. The ice cream enterprise took off and was the second food business in Scotland to be awarded Investors in People status. It supplies all major supermarkets and has 45% of Scotland's premium ice cream market.

In 1998 his son Mac took over as managing director and it remains a true family business with daughters Karin  and Kirstin as marketing and development directors respectively. Halldis also played a valuable role, acting as principal taster first in the milk business and then in developing new flavours for ice cream and the latest product - chocolate - to be launched at the Highland Show this week. The firm also diversified into potato crisps which it currently exports to more than 20 countries.

Throughout his farming career he played a leading role in many related organisations, devoting much of his time to public service. He was vice-president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland and helped to move the body away from a purely political organisation to focus more on market-orientated self-help policies.

He was also the architect and implementer of the farm produce assurance movement in Scotland and founded the Scottish Pig Industry Initiative, which developed the Scottish pig meat sector and was noted for its pioneering concept of industry self-disciplining to best practice under farm assurance inspection schemes - an achievement that earned him the David Black Award.

He also chaired Farm Assured Scotch Livestock, was instrumental in developing a Farm Assurance best practice manual for all of Scottish farming and sat on the Meat and Livestock Commission's research committee.

In addition he was a director and former chairman of Grampian Enterprise Ltd and the Scottish Agricultural College and chairman of the food and animal committees of the Agricultural Food Research Council. He was also a member of the board of: the Scottish Traditional Skills Training centre; the Priorities Board for Research in Agriculture; the Rowett Research Institute and Lloyds TSB Scotland.

Made a CBE in 1991 for services to agriculture, he used his wide experience of the industry in his role as a Scottish Enterprise mentor for small businesses and described himself as being on a mission to encourage the rural sector and its communities to take ownership of the renewable energy potential of its land, saying he wanted to "decentralise and democratise" wind power.

Away from business, he was heavily involved in the community and had dabbled in local politics. He was a Scout leader for 20 years and remained chairman of his local Scout Group, he chaired Grampian's Help the Aged jubilee committee raising £120,000 locally and amassed a similar sum, through the agricultural sector, for Aberdeen University's Quincentenary campaign.

A Liberal all of his adult life, he championed the party's activities in West Aberdeenshire and later the Gordon constituency, supporting the candidacies of his father and others, including Sir Malcolm Bruce MP. He also stood as a Liberal candidate in the first Grampian Regional Council election in 1975 and as a Liberal Democrat candidate in Banff and Buchan and on the North East list for the Scottish Parliament in 1999, coming third against Alex Salmond.

Mackie, who was awarded an honorary law degree by Aberdeen University in 1996 and had served on its Court since 2000, was elected Lord Rector in 2011, an extremely popular choice and a move that brought back memories of his own a "wonderful experience" as a student 55 years earlier.

His joyous student days were immeasurably enhanced by his relationship with Halldis who introduced him to Norwegian culture and winter sports. As a family they would spend holidays at her cottage on an island near Bergen, sailing, walking and skiing. But one trip ended with his wife coming to his rescue in a bizarre fashion after he left his passport in Norway. In an attempt to establish his identity on arrival in Aberdeen, immigration staff asked him to name his latest ice cream flavour. Flummoxed, he could not remember: "I was going to say mint choc chip but then my wife reminded me that was the penultimate one and it was actually raspberry ripple." Correctly identified, he was allowed on his way, albeit by an immigration officer with a twinkle in their eye.

The couple's other adventures included climbing Norway's highest peak together, along with Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. They also shared a passion for skiing in the Swiss alps where Halldis had a second home and, encouraged by her, he joined her on trips to Machu Picchu, heli-skiing in Canada, trekking around Bhutan and polar bear spotting in the Arctic Ocean.

Her heritage was an integral part of their life and they built a Norwegian-style house on their farm in Rothienorman where he died peacefully with his family, having been diagnosed with brain cancer only two weeks after Halldis died in February.

He is survived by their three children, nine grandchildren, his brother and four sisters.