Donald MacDougall Skinner, of Oban and Glasgow, 1941-2022

The photograph is by Ewen Weatherspoon from his selection of portraits at the 2007 Centenary Camanachd Cup Final in Inverness.

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Tributes have been paid from throughout the shinty community to Donald Skinner of Oban and Glasgow, former two-term President, Chieftain and Member of Honour of shinty’s Governing Body the Camanachd Association, who died this week.

The Skinner family, over more than 100 years and through successive generations, have made an immense contribution to shinty.  Donald more than made his own mark on the game adding with distinction to an unparalleled family set of circumstances and influences. He was a more than accomplished shinty player in his day and perhaps his only regret in his many years of involvement with the game was, due to family and business circumstances, not being part of the Glasgow Mid Argyll team which won the Camanachd Cup in 1973. It was an unfortunate circumstance he carried philosophically and with typical dignity and he never allowed it to colour his perspective and recollections of a sport and way of life which left him, in his own words, ‘with nothing but friends’.

He gave everything he had to shinty, despite having more than onerous business and family commitments, serving in a succession of the highest offices in the game up to and including President and Chieftain, being a recipient of the Marine Harvest Centenary Award in 2017 for his contribution to the game. This was no more than he deserved.

The tributes have been led by the Camanachd Association’s current Chieftain John MacKenzie MBE of Newtonmore. He said: ‘Shinty has lost arguably its most influential and charismatic figure of the last 50 years and more with the passing of Donald Skinner.  The Skinner family over the last four generations have made an immense contribution to shinty and Donald more than made his own contribution to an unparalleled family set of influences. He gave everything he had to shinty, serving in a succession of the highest offices in the game up to and including President and Chieftain the Marine Harvest Award for his contribution was no more than he deserved. Donald was someone everyone looked up to and he had a remarkable set of skills, particularly in dealing with people, and he was a role model for many office-bearers who followed in the paths he carved for himself.  What he did in shinty was a mirror image of an outstanding business career. His contribution to shinty as an administrator in Glasgow and Oban in particular is unlikely ever to be matched and while he said himself his greatest pleasure was the number of friends he made through the sport, there are so many more now who will be significantly impacted and diminished by his passing. The sympathy of the whole shinty community is extended to Meg, his son David and daughter Morven and their five grandchildren, and everyone else who is at this time understandably feeling a great sense of loss.’

Donald had been living with several health issues in the last couple of years, all bravely borne until his passing in the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow in Glasgow. He was a remarkable man who left an amazing legacy in the world of shinty and business through his partnership with the late Calum MacArthur. There were very few West Coasters and particularly students and married couples who did not pay a visit to the offices of Skinner MacArthur on Byres Road for mortgage and/or insurance advice.  It was this business acumen which led him to lead shinty into its transformational relationship with leading distillers Glenmorangie, the sports first, modern sponsorship deal which evolved into one of the most enduring and significant in Scottish, if not UK sport.

Donald served on virtually every committee imaginable (mentoring a succession of other office-bearers) and had recently taken time to document his life history. It was during this process that it became apparent that the loss of his own and his grandfather’s Presidential silver mounted caman in a house fire had affected him significantly. Steps were taken to have a new caman secured for the family and a silver plate was added with the two names and their relevant Presidential dates.  The caman was presented to Donald at home in Bishopbriggs a few weeks ago by David Hamilton of the Macaulay Association which had joined, in a remarkable testament to the esteem with which he was held by everyone, with the Glasgow Celtic Society, Shinty Memories Scotland and the Camanachd Association in the provision of the caman.

The Macaulay Association paid this tribute to their former stalwart: ‘Donald was our President from 2007 until 2013 when he moved to Glasgow to be nearer his family. In his years as President, he was instrumental in the growth of the Association with the final now being shown live on TV. The current members of the Association would like to offer our sincere condolences to Donald`s family and friends. The shinty world has lost a true gentleman and a great Shinty ambassador.’

These sentiments were echoed by Donald Fletcher of the Glasgow Celtic Society. He said: ‘The Glasgow Celtic Society are saddened by the passing of Donald Skinner who was a former Director, Secretary, Treasurer and Chieftain of the Society. He became a Director of the Glasgow Celtic Society towards the end of the 1960s whilst still a player with Glasgow Mid Argyll; he held the position of Secretary and Treasurer for a number of years, demitting office in 1976 when he became President of the Camanachd Association a position he held for two terms till 1982. He continued as a Director of the Society and made his office in Byres Road available for Society meetings. In 1994 Donald became Chieftain and held that office till 1998. Although he moved back to his Oban roots, he still continued to take an active interest in the Society and helped whenever possible. In more recent years, having returned to reside in the Glasgow area Donald was a regular spectator at shinty matches and seldom missed Celtic Cup ties. Last October, despite indifferent health, Donald managed to attend the Celtic Cup final at Taynuilt. Donald’s contribution to the Glasgow Celtic Society and to shinty in the Glasgow area and beyond was immense. He will be sorely missed.’

Donald also featured just this week in a new series of Caman Connections podcasts which was recorded a few weeks ago, by complete chance on the very day he received his new silver caman.  By his own express wish, the podcast was broadcast just two days before his passing.

Gary Innes, who conducted the interview for Caman Connections, said: ‘It was a great privilege to be able to speak to Donald, particularly as he has been dealing with a number of health issues in the last eighteen months and more.  As a distinguished former player, President and Chieftain of the Association, he is someone who literally did everything in the game. It was great to find him in good form and we were very lucky to be able to talk to him just as he received his silver mounted caman from Shinty Memories, the Glasgow Celtic Society, the Macaulay Association and the Camanachd Association to replace his family’s camans which were lost in a fire. It was an honour to be in his company and to share his fantastic memories which he recounted with his customary style and panache.’

Born and bred in Oban, Donald never forgot and indeed was very proud of his roots and after his successful career in Glasgow returned there to take over the reins at Skinner Carmichael in Argyll Square, along with his son David.

In the early 70s, Ellis Carmichael joined the Glasgow based company of Skinner Macarthur to run the Oban office which subsequently became Skinner Carmichael and there began a partnership and enduring friendship.

On his return to Oban in the mid-90s Donald very quickly immersed himself in local activities, especially shinty and significant charitable work through Hope 2 Oban, of which he was extremely proud. Ellis Carmichael recalls: “Donald and Meg set up home in Connel and this village also enjoyed his enthusiastic contributions. His sense of community awareness made him a valued and respected member of various committees and there are many who benefited from his involvement here and in Oban, myself included.

‘Donald loved Oban and its history and we used to jokingly refer to Dunollie Castle as his ancestral seat, this being a reference to his middle name, MacDougall. The Skinner history in Oban extends back generations and their involvement in local affairs shaped the prosperity of the town as we know it today. Donald will be remembered in Argyll with great fondness and gratitude for his contribution and we, the community should be thankful to his family for allowing him the time to do all the things that he did for us all. I consider myself fortunate to have been his business partner and friend for almost 50 years and I will miss his company, his counsel and presence. I know that he will be remembered by many and he will live on in the hearts of those who loved him most.’

A private burial took place at Strathblane cemetery on Monday, April 4, followed by memorial service at St Paul’s Church, Milngavie. All donations made in Donald’s memory will go to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow where Donald had the most fantastic care from all the wonderful staff.

Hugh Dan MacLennan