Alasdair McKay was a much loved and enthusiastic member of the Halifax Burns Club and sang at every event staged by the Club, The Annual Burns Suppers, the Jean Armor evenings and the concerts we performed at the Veteran's Hospital. Alasdair had an unrivalled knowledge of the songs of Robert Burns, from the obscure to the universally popular and always sang with great gusto. I mentioned to Pat that I thought Alasdair was mildly eccentric and Pat felt that was putting it mildly.
Without a doubt Alasdair was a free spirit and somewhat uncontrollable, I remember a couple of years ago at the Burns Supper introduced Alasdair as I always did as one of the great characters of the Halifax Burns Club, and he took the floor and with a twinkle in his eye sang 3 songs, none of which was the one song we had agreed for the program.
Although Alasdair could dress smartly for an occasion, sartorial elegance was not on his list of priorities, he had an inimitable sense of style. A couple of months ago he arrived at a club meeting wearing the skimpiest pair of shorts possible without offending and an oversize woolly pullover, and then had us all in fits of laughter telling us that the primary source of his clothing. The Salvation Army Thrift Shop might have to close, we were crying. laughing. and Alasdair just smiled quietly. I think Alasdair perfected the art of smiling quietly at an early age.
Although Alasdair left us prematurely he lived a fulfilled life. Alasdair was very well educated and very well read. He was born in Stirling. Scotland, and in many respects was the quintessential Scot. He went on to gain a B.Sc at Glasgow University. an M.Sc. at the University of Wales in Bangor and a Ph D. at the University of Durham. Whilst at Durham Alasdair first met his wife to be, Pat. They were very happily married for 33 years and anybody that witnessed Pat and Alasdair in full flight dancing the Gay Gordons or the Dashing White Sergeant knew immediately that Pat and Alasdair were much, much more than man and wife
Alasdair left many legacies; first and foremost, a loving family and I'm sure that Pat and Alasdair's daughter Elizabeth and son Robert will carry precious memories of a very special Father in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
Although Alistair's vocation as a geophysicist was in the field of science, his avocation was in the arts, history, literature, poetry, music, singing and dancing, and he had an astounding breadth of knowledge with regard to his eclectic range of interests. Alasdair was essentially a quiet man but loved the rigor and vigor of debate and was almost always the first to re-act to email queries from other members; points of history, the meaning and roots of words both ancient and modern, Latin
Pat told me a few days ago that Alasdair had been prescriptive with regards to how things should be handled: -
In a way, I think that's how Alasdair lived his life. He was a gentlemen and a gentle man. He marched to the beat of his own drum and wasn't particularly concerned about the opinions of others outside of the family with regard to how he lived his life.
I remember a couple of years ago he was to performed the address to the Haggis which he had prepared himself for a concert at the Veteran's Hospital. We were about ready to start when Alasdair arrived, hair streaming in the wind; he cycled up to the hospital entrance resplendent in a bright red rain jacket, the shortest kilt we had ever seen and the Haggis swathed in woolly pullovers and tied to the handle-bars of his bicycle. When it was pointed out to Alasdair that he had almost certainly
And again, at the Annual General Meeting earlier this year, held on HMCS Sackville Alasdair arrived on his bicycle at the Naval Dockyard security gate, he was deeply tanned, bearded, kilted and carrying a suspicious parcel - The Haggis - and carried no identification whatsoever. He had been refused entry and was being questioned with regard to his mission when luckily Club member Jim Lancaster arrived on the scene. After some explanation and agreeing to vouch for Alasdair, both Alasdair and the Haggis arrived at their destination - mission completed. I think the security guards still talk about it, and whenever we made reference to it Alasdair just smiled quietly.
The Halifax Burns Club was very fortunate when it became part of Alistair's extended family beyond the home hearth. I've always considered the Club as a fraternity and past president John Bryce referred to it as a band of brothers. Well, we'll all greatly miss our much loved brother Alasdair, we'll miss his contributions, his scholarship, we'll miss his singing, his free spirit, and his complete disregard of the dictates of fashion, we'll miss our monthly fix of Alistair's delicious Haggis and Neeps, his quiet smiles, but most of all we'll miss the enriching company of a truly exceptional human being.
Our senior member Captain Angus McDonald suggested a verse by Robert Burns, it was written by Robert as an epitaph for his friend William Muir, but it could just as easily have been written for our friend, Alasdair McKay.
An Honest man lies here at rest
As ere God with his image blest
The friend of Man, the friend of Truth
The friend of Age and guide of Youth
Few hearts like his with virtue warmed
Few heads with knowledge so informed
If there's another world, he lives in bliss
If there is none he made the best of this.
And now in conclusion, as we gather here today to give thanks and celebrate a life well lived, I would like to ask you all to recall a pleasant moment spent with Alasdair and while enjoying that memory please smile quietly.
Alasdair McKay was a popular member of the Halifax Burns Club. This speech was written by Bill Forster, a good friend of Alasdair's and fellow member of the club. It was delivered at a memorial service for Alasdair on Oct 24th 2006.