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Always known as Colin, this great friend to storytelling died just before Christmas. Many tributes to Colin Mackay will record his outstanding public service as teacher and headteacher, memorably at Craigmuir in Pilton, as Scout leader and pioneer in Scouting for disabled youngsters, and as a lifelong church volunteer at St David’s in Broomhouse.
However, we especially celebrate Colin as a storyteller, flourishing after his retirement in 1998, building on decades of work with young people. Being Colin, he also took a leading role in supporting storytellers and was Chair of the Scottish Storytelling Forum during the vital years leading up to the opening of the Scottish Storytelling Centre. In particular he saw the international importance of such a Centre and was delighted by its success, though puzzled by the Church of Scotland’s change of heart as it moved away from being an active partner in the community engagement being fostered by the Centre across Scotland. He was also a pioneer in the Life Stories group working creatively with older people, and co-edited Blethers with Ann Davies.
There were at least four aspects of storytelling in which Colin delighted. First it connected him with his own origins as a Sutherland Mackay and he often told those traditional tales. Secondly, Colin liked stories that were on the side of children in their values and attitudes. This revealed what made him a great teacher and educational leader. He loved the real-life story of the wee boys who went in to tell the Jannie that there was a big hole in the playground, only to be chased back out with a flea in their ear. Quickly thereafter the whole newly built school was closed due to mining subsidence!
Thirdly, Colin loved dressing-up. There was something in disguise that released a playful self beyond his remarkable dutifulness. His Hans Christian Andersen outfit was a defining representation of his bi-centenary and opened up a pathway into the fairy tales and fables. On one occasion the fairly ascetic Mackay frame was transformed into Friar Tuck, while his guided tours of John Knox House were invariably accompanied by a full JK hairpiece!
But Colin’s finest storytelling achievement was his re-telling of the Ann Frank story. This employed simple but brilliant techniques for involving listeners in the teenager’s perspective, based on the diary. Colin set this alongside the brute facts of oppression and discrimination without interposing himself, and the result was artistically and educationally superb. Colin spent months researching and devising his presentation which was repeated at least a hundred times, the last being in the Storytelling Centre on Holocaust Memorial Day 2015. It was very moving to see the artistry still at work, even though Colin was by this stage quite frail and beset by poor health. And that is the fourth and probably most important thing for Colin- the power of storytelling to convey afresh the wisdom of love.
Colin is a much missed friend, but his many achievements live on as part of many other peoples’ stories and memories. A memorial event for Colin will take place in St Ann’s Church in Corstorphine on Saturday 13th February at 2.30pm.