Mr Norman MacAskill, Lochinver
Mr Norman MacAskill, Lochinver
NORMAN A MacASKILL of Lochinver, who died on 21st April aged 82, was a man of many occupations and even more enthusiasms.
He was a crofter, fisherman, musician, public servant, writer, local historian and stalwart of the Assynt Games and many other community activities.
Brought up in a family of seven on the family croft in Inverkirkaig, Norman moved to Glasgow where he worked as a customs officer and carved out a second career as a bass and trumpet player in various jazz and dance bands. There he met and married Joan Brown, a civil servant and trade union activist.
In 1957 Norman took up the post of clerk to the Assynt and Stoer District Council and moved back to Assynt with Joan and their two sons Iain and Norman.
Although Assynt was a poor parish, there was a strong will in the community to make it a better place and Norman joined a company of great men and women who worked unstintingly to this end. He was involved in many initiatives to develop the community, ranging from the amenities association and the angling club to the revival of the games and an endless variety of entertainments in the village hall. Working as a team with Joan, Norman also ran the North-West Sutherland Council of Social Service.
In 1968 Norman was offered appointment as a part-time member of the Crofters Commission. The refusal of district council members to let him continue his role as clerk led to a controversy which older readers may remember as "The Assynt Affair". The now-forgotten conflict was covered by national journalists like Magnus Magnusson, and probably gained Assynt more headlines than any event until the 1992 crofters' buyout.
Losing employment as district clerk allowed Norman to pursue other ventures, including Enard Bay Cruises which offered visitors the chance of a boat trip from Lochinver to view the "seals, seabirds and scenery" and to try their hands at sea angling. Norman loved nothing more than taking people out in boats, sharing the natural wonders of the sea and islands with them and finding exactly the right spot for a good catch of fish.
As a member then vice-chairman of the Crofters Commission he gained wide respect across the Highlands and Islands. He was involved in the drafting of the 1976 Crofting Act, which established the crofters right to buy, and was awarded the OBE for services to crofting.
From the day when he sent away for his first fiddle at the age of 12, music played a huge part in Norman's life. Although the first to admit he was a good, not great, musician, he took pride in being able to get a tune out of almost anything and loved to entertain an audience. Many years of putting together ad hoc groupings to play at ceilidhs and dances led to the formation in the early 90s of the Lochinver Ceilidh Band, who became regulars on the north circuit and also embarked on two memorable foreign tours, in Ireland and Canada.
Retirement was never going to be a time of inactivity for a restless and creative spirit like Norman's and, despite the tragic blow of Joan's death in 1996, he continued to work on community projects for his beloved parish and to research and document its history. A particular interest was the migration of the Normanites – followers of the Rev Norman MacLeod of Clachtoll, who migrated first to Canada in 1817, then finally settled in New Zealand in 1853 – and Norman was instrumental in getting a memorial erected to his namesake at Clachtoll in 1994.
Another man of the same name who loomed large in Norman's life was the poet Norman MacCaig, with whom he shared a close friendship over many years and at whose funeral in 1996 he gave a moving eulogy. MacCaig stayed for many summers on Norman and Joan's croft in Inverkirkaig and Norman used to joke that he should get royalties from the poet for all the wildlife on the croft that had inspired him.
New Year 2003 found Norman in the New Zealand community of Waipu as guest of honour at their Highland Games, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Normanites who founded the community. It was Norman at his best – a wise and witty ambassador for Assynt and the Highlands, sharing tall stories, songs and drams, and adding to the vast number of loyal and loving friendships he had gathered in a long and active life, all across the world.
Six weeks after his return from that trip, he was laid low with a stroke which left him severely disabled. For such an active and impatient man, this was a hard burden to bear and his final years, while lightened by the attentive company and good cheer of family, friends and carers, were a trial to him. During this time Norman received excellent care, first through the Assynt Centre and then in Lochbroom House in Ullapool.
On the morning of 21st April he fell asleep while reading a book given to him by an old friend two days earlier, and never woke up.
Norman is survived by two sons, Iain and Norman, and granddaughters Sophie and Ellen.
Published: 11 May, 2007 in Northern Times