Obituary: Peter MacLeod, The Wheelhouse, Ganavan

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It was with great sadness that the Oban community learned of the passing of one of its most prominent and favourite sons, Peter MacLeod, who lived at The Wheelhouse, Ganavan.

Peter  passed away on Sunday December 12 and was interred at Pennyfuir Cemetery on Tuesday December 21 with a large crowd gathered to mark his passing.

Peter was born on June 9, 1933 in Ruaig Schoolhouse on the island of Tiree. He was the only child of Robert MacLeod, who was the schoolmaster there and his wife Christina MacKinnon who was also a teacher at the school.

At the age of three, the family moved to Peter’s beloved Benderloch, where he grew up in the old Lochnell Schoolhouse, spending his days playing on Tralee Beach, climbing Ben Lora, and making dens at Keil Farm.

As an only child, he was delighted to be joined by evacuee children from Dumbarton in the family home during the war years. Peter’s father was the Captain Mainwairing of the Home Guard in Benderloch and strategy meetings were held in the schoolhouse, often late in to the night, with Peter listening in to these discussions and the formulation of plans for resistance should Benderloch ever be invaded!

Peter went on to secondary school at Oban High, travelling by train every day on the Ballachulish to Oban railway line. One can only imagine the mischief and pranks he, and the other children, got up to on the train on a daily basis. Playing shinty and football were his passions at a young age. He wasn’t, however, so keen on school work!

Leaving school, he joined the Royal Bank of Scotland in Oban at aged 16 , and among his first jobs was keeping the boiler stocked with coal to heat the building! It was at this time he first got involved with boats, which was to become a lifetime passion, and he became very active with Oban Sailing Club and racing Mirror dinghies. Peter then went on to undertake his National Service, mostly based in Devizes in Wiltshire, and he enjoyed it so much that he later joined the Territorials, where he achieved the rank of Captain.

On returning to Oban, Peter got involved with Oban Round Table, and became chairman, overseeing charitable activities and various events in the town.

He first met his beloved Jean at a dance in Connel Village Hall featuring Bobby MacLeod and His Dance Band. Peter and Jean married in Lairg, Sutherland in 1957, and went on to have 56 very happy years together, until Jean sadly passed away in 2013.

Peter achieved success in his banking exams and as a result was promoted to office manager at the Royal Bank’s Kinlochleven branch, his first stay in the village.

Then, in 1965, at the tender age of 32, he was appointed as the youngest ever bank manager in the Royal Bank to its Tobermory Branch. He was absolutely delighted to move there, which was the home of his grandparents.

He bought his first yacht, Moonraker, when in Mull, and he was a founding member of the Western Isles Yacht Club. Peter was also very active in Tobermory drama club and wrote a play called Mrs McGinty Downstairs.  In the play, Peter’s pet Golden Retriever, named Bran, was trained to hide under a bed on stage and appear on command to dramatic effect at a certain point in the play. Unfortunately, Bran got bored leaving the stage after two minutes with the players wondering what to do next!

Peter then moved back to Kinlochleven, this time as manager, where he became a founding member of Glencoe Boat Club, and loved to participate in the many sailing events and regattas in Lochaber.

A move to Wick in Caithness as manager followed in 1973, where he was encouraged to pursue his love of music – in particular the playing of the accordion and participating in Scottish Dance Band music. Peter was a self-taught accordion player, and played the box at many events. Together with Addie Harper of the Wick Scottish Dance Band, he formed the Wick Accordion & Fiddle Club and he was honoured to be invited back to Wick in 2015 to be formally awarded honorary membership of the club.

After three years as bank manager in Wick, Peter was ominously summoned to the Royal Bank’s headquarters in Edinburgh. Filled with trepidation as to where he would go next, he was asked by the general manager if he would MIND(!) moving back to Oban as manager. On phoning his wife  Jean that afternoon she immediately started packing!

A move to The Wheelhouse in Ganavan followed in 1976, and this was to become the family home for over 45 years.

The move back to Oban was when Peter’s love of sailing came back to the fore. He had been a very proud member of the Royal Highland Yacht Club for many years and went on to become their Commodore. In 1977, he crewed on Pepsi in the Fastnet Race, one of the biggest classic offshore races in Europe. He was founding chairman of West Highland Anchorages and Moorings, and was also treasurer of Oban RNLI for 12 years. His hospitality and musical entertainment on board Snoopy, his Nantucket Clipper, were renowned throughout the West Coast and the islands.

Peter, back in Oban, also maintained his strong interest in traditional music and was appointed president of the Oban and Lorn Strathspey & Reel Society.  Many locals and visitors to Oban greatly enjoyed his compering of the annual Fiddler’s Rally concert in the Corran Halls. He was also a Burns enthusiast and was often asked to speak at the annual suppers held in the Bard’s memory, the most memorable one being in 1978 a Burns Supper in Moscow, which at that time was part of the old Soviet Union.

Peter was appointed an Honorary Sheriff at Oban’s Sheriff Court in 1988, and went on to serve 25 years on the bench, retiring at the age of 80. However, he was not a natural Sheriff and often had great disagreements with court officials – he always wanted to let everyone off!

In his later years, he enjoyed his many coffee outings to local favourites such as Robin’s Nest in Taynuilt, Poppies in Connel, and the Ben Lora Café in Benderloch. Peter was at his happiest amongst the company of good friends and familiar faces, and because of the regard in which he was held in the community he had an an enormous amount of friends and acquaintances. He was, however, especially grateful in later life to Viv MacDonald for all she did to help him in The Wheelhouse over the years, and also the wonderful home carers of Oban, who became good friends and were instrumental in allowing Peter to stay at home until his passing.

Peter was especially proud of his two boys, Garry and Lorne, and all that they have achieved in their life. They have been wonderful supportive sons to their father, visiting him regularly and helping him in every way since Jean’s passing. Garry, Peter’s oldest son, who lives in Drumnadrochit, Inverness-shire wished it to be recorded that his brother Lorne, who lives in Oban, was a most devoted son visiting two to three times a day and taking his father away on many trips well beyond Oban. Peter was also very fond of Garry’s partner, Kate, and her wonderful warmth, humour and caring manner brought great joy to him.

He was also devoted to his only grandson Calum Peter MacLeod, and one of Peter’s proudest days was attending Calum’s graduation in Edinburgh. Peter was so delighted when Calum met Fiona and he loved their recent visit to Oban, when he could spend time with them and hear of their latest exciting expedition to the Western Isles.

Peter was especially proud when Willie Lawrie of Kinlochleven, composed a pipe tune, ‘Peter MacLeod of Ganavan’, and this lovely and special tune was played on the pipes by Jamie MacGregor at the graveside at Pennyfuir.

Peter MacLeod was a man of many parts, gifted in all that that took his interest but he was  essentially a family man, proud, too, of his island and highland heritage which he always endeavoured to promote. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him for the unique personality that he was, which saw him able to generate in equal measure friendship and enthusiasm wherever he went.

Iain MacIntyre