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John Alick Macpherson

John Alick Macpherson

Born: November 12th, 1937

Passed on: August 31st, 2017

Seonaidh Ailig Mac A’Phearsain, John Alick Macpherson, who passed away on August 31, 2017, in the Northside General Hospital, was born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland on November 12, 1937, to the late Archie and Chirsty Anne (MacLennan) MacPherson.
He is survived by children, Alan (Irene), Kirsty and Iain; grandchildren, Evan and Kailey; his first wife, Fiona (Grant) MacPherson, all of Toronto. John Alick is also survived by his second wife, Helen (Campbell) MacPherson, Marion Bridge. He also leaves to mourn his sister-in-law, Lexena Campbell; brothers-in-law, John C. Campbell (Dolores Campbell), Donald L. Campbell, Stanley D. Campbell (Margaret Cash), Brian A. Campbell, Sylvia (the late Peter) Campbell, and many close cousins and friends.
John Alick spent the first five years of his life in Leverburgh, Harris, then moved with his parents to Goular, North Uist. They lived, at first, with John’s paternal grandmother, before acquiring the house nearby, which would be the family home until the death of his parents. Like many Hebridean children of his era, he had to leave home at age 14 to complete his schooling, since no secondary school existed then in the Southern Western Isles. He went to Portree High School in Skye, which left him with many good memories. He went on to Edinburgh University for a degree in Celtic Studies and later, a teaching qualification from Jordanhill College of Education. He returned to Uist to teach school for a number of years in Paible School, before going to Glasgow and a position with the BBC Gaelic service, an experience which provided a lifetime of memories and a circle of friends who remained forever close, as well as gaining him recognition and admiration in the Gaelic community for his consummate bilingual skills, his well-crafted turn of phrase and his measured delivery on air.
In 1961, he was crowned Bàrd at the An Comunn Gàidhealach annual Mod in Stirling, an occasion that combined solemnity with hilarity. True to form, he refused to wear the kilt, arguing that his lack of physical stature would have brought ridicule on himself and An Comunn if he wore it – a point reinforced by the fact that they had to shorten the bardic gown he was to wear. There was no argument, however, about the fact that, though short of stature in his gown, his intellect well filled the bardic crown. He was to go on to demonstrate his literary skills in poetry and prose of various forms and to be a popular platform speaker on many occasions, as well as a delightful companion in informal settings.
A second career began in 1972, when he accepted a job with Atomic Energy of Canada, a prestigious pioneer in the nuclear energy industry. He was posted as information officer for this Crown Corporation to Glace Bay, in Cape Breton, where the company was building a heavy water plant. His arrival in Cape Breton coincided with the efforts of An Comunn Gaidhlig Cheap Breatuinn by a group of native speakers and learners determined to revive the language of their ancestors. His contribution to the cause came quickly and effectively, building on the group’s efforts to strengthen ties with the old country by way of introducing Gaelic in schools and mounting the first large scale visit to the Hebrides by descendants of the first settlers. John Alick’s support for the Gaelic Society initiative was a key to its success and opened a long break in communications between the Hebrides and Cape Breton. It was soon followed by the recruiting of Gaelic teachers from Scotland and a boost to the efforts of the Beaton Institute to preserve the music, language and dance of the Gaels.
He stayed with AECL for many years, working in various capacities in Mississauga, Ottawa, Toronto and finally, in Chalk River, historic site of the original AECL plant from the 1940’s. He represented Canada in many international nuclear gatherings in China, Vienna, Korea, the United States, France, etc. His contributions were always received with respect. During his years in Scotland, his experience in the nuclear field led him to be appointed to the UKAEA, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority board.
In his initial ‘retirement’ year, he was offered the job of managing information services for the Ottawa Civic Hospital during the consolidation of the three main hospitals in Ottawa, which kept him busy during a twelve month contract. Another unexpected, but welcome opportunity, came in 1997, when he was hired in Scotland by the Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig, Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, as its deputy director. In this capacity, he contributed greatly to the shaping and development of the expansion and growth of Gaelic television, radio and education and never lost interest in the growth of Gaelic media culture, including the creation of BBC Alba, the Gaelic TV channel. At the invitation of the minister for Gaelic in the Scottish Government, Alasdair Morrison, he chaired a committee of experts and authored an influential report with recommendations for the future development of Gaelic.
One of the projects he took special pride in was the high school debates conducted in Gaelic, the idea for which grew from a conversation between himself, Alasdair Morrison and Donald (Ruadh) MacLean, chairman of the Development Services Committee of the Local Authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The lively and popular debates grew to attract students from all over Scotland and are now held in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and broadcast nationally.
At times, he seemed to be everywhere, never saying ‘no’ to an opportunity or a challenge. From Rhenigidale in his beloved island of Harris (with which he shared an equally faithful love of North Uist), he travelled many miles, always displaying his seemingly boundless energy. Among his appointments, he was on the boards of Caledonia MacBrayne, Acair publishing, the Celtic Media Festival, Comhairle Nan Leabhraichean and Assynt Film Limited.
Originally designed to last for three years, the CCG job stretched to nine at the end of which, John Alick decided on a return to Cape Breton and a home on the Mira River in a district where many of the residents are descended from the pioneers from North Uist and from where he continued his interest in Gaelic. He managed this through his board membership of the Gaelic College at St. Anne’s, a deep interest in activities at the Beaton archives at CBU, collaboration on writing and publishing with Mike Hunter of Cape Breton University Press and Professor Michael Linkletter of St. F.X. University. He was also an active, hands-on president of the Atlantic Gaelic Academy, an on-line Gaelic course, which attracts students from many countries. He also enjoyed his participation in the Mira Gaelic Choir and teaching a Gaelic class held at the local church hall.
One of the three books he completed was a memoir, an interesting account of his life and hailed by readers as an outstanding example of Gaelic writing. He collaborated with Michael Linkletter in writing Fògradh, Fàisneachd, Filidheachd (Parting, Prophecy, Poetry), which also got good reviews. His final work was translating Gaelic letters to the Cape Breton Gaelic newspaper MacTalla from John Munro, who left St. Anne’s, Cape Breton to live in Waipu, New Zealand, where the followers of Rev. Norman MacLeod had settled in the 19th Century. The book was recently published by Bev Brett, who discovered the letters in the archives at the Beaton Institute at CBU.
There will be no visitation. Funeral service will be held at St. Columba Presbyterian Church, Marion Bridge on Saturday, September 9, 2017, at 11 a.m., with Rev. Lydia MacKinnon officiating. Interment in Oakfield Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Canadian Liver Foundation.
Words of comfort can be sent to the family at www.sydneymemorialchapel.ca or e-mail sydneymemorialchapel@ns.sympatico.ca.


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