Shinty commentator and former president of the Camanachd Association

Born: May 26, 1934;

Died: December 15, 2018

John Willie Campbell, who has died aged 84, was a well-known shinty commentator and former president of the Camanachd Association, the governing body of the sport.

He was born and brought up in Skye (Edinbane, then Clachamish near Bernisdale), where he received his first education. He reckoned that Clachamish was the first-ever shinty Academy, producing, as it did, some remarkable exponents of the caman.

From there he went to Portree and then after two years’ National Service in the RAF in the mid-50s where he was part of the Mountain Rescue team, he completed his BSc degree in Glasgow, playing shinty, winning Littlejohn Vase medals, the Southern League title and securing a Blue.

After graduation in 1961, a 33-year long career in teaching in Inverness followed, (including marriage to Margaret on 25 July 1963) with his stint at Inverness Royal Academy providing him with one of the highlights of his shinty career. He taught at Inverness Royal Academy from 1961 to 1967; Millburn Academy from 1967 to 1969; then Crown Primary School where he was Deputy Head from 1969 to 1972. He was Assistant Rector in Millburn from 1972 to 1994. An active retirement saw him serve on his local community council as well as being a JP and Honorary Sheriff.

John’s his main educational association was with Millburn Academy where I met him first as a probationer teacher with his great friends the then Rector Willie Weatherspoon, Assistant Rector Colin Baillie, and Peggy MacKintosh from Skye. Being the Gaelic teacher and a shinty player, I was well looked after by the time-tabling master.

However, it is as a broadcaster he will be most widely remembered having reported and commentated on shinty for the BBC from 1968 to 1991, including the day Skye Camanachd won the Camanachd Cup in Fort William in 1990. It was his finest hour. “I was very emotional during that broadcast,” he confessed, “but maybe that’s no bad thing.” He could not have climbed a higher Everest and it was a lifetime’s ambition fulfilled. Over the years he worked with many microphone greats: Douglas Lowe (Snr), Jock Brown, David Begg, Alister Alexander and a young Derek Rae, before he handed the baton to me in 1991.

He provided results for BBC Scotland, BBC Highland and Gaelic radio and television for 33 years, wrote for national newspapers such as the Scotsman and Sunday Post, and a range of local newspapers such as the Press and Journal, Highland News, and West Highland Free Press. He has left an incomparable record of the game in the form of results of matches and competitions extending throughout his media career which is held in the Highland Archive in Inverness. He became known as “shinty’s Bill McLaren” and the Voice of Shinty through distinctive radio delivery.

John Willie had but one joke he told at dinners and repeated to anyone who would listen. Its short form was that he was once missing a score for his broadcast with deadline looming. He phoned a woman in Wester Ross (probably a player’s mother) to enquire about the result. “I am sorry,” he was told, “I don’t have the score. But if you listen to the radio at half past five, John Willie will have them all.” That really tickled him.

Camanachd Association President Keith Loades, whose mother probably took that phone call, has described John Willie as “one of the most significant figures in shinty in the 20th century, serving the game in every capacity from his boyhood as a player in Skye, through University to the full range of administrative duties and responsibilities, a distinguished President who faced many challenges with a calm and dignified manner throughout.”

Beyond the confines of the shinty communities, John Willie was one of the best-known voices in Scottish broadcasting. Many people knew little of shinty itself but were regular devotees of his results reporting on BBC Scotland of a Saturday evening from 1968 to 1991. Jack Richmond also said that “three or four words of John Willie’s and for a multitude of people, very many of them with no shinty connection, the marvellous computer inside their heads clicks a multiplicity of connections and brings up a message which says shinty and the Highlands – loud, clear and distinctive.”

John Willie Campbell was a man who placed his family and his faith above all else and will be sorely missed, one of the most distinguished servants of the sport and heritage of the Highlands, ever. The sympathy of the whole shinty community, throughout the world, is extended to his wife Margaret in Gorthleck, Stratherrick, his older sister Mairi in Australia, son Donald in Edinburgh and daughter Shona in Inverness, five grandchildren, Eilidh, Rory and Peter (Shona’s), and Hannah and Catherine (Donald’s), as well as the extended family and friends in Skye and elsewhere.

Fois is sìth dha.

Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan