"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43. 1
Please indulge me while I acknowledge my uncle, John Cambell MacLeod, who died yesterday; another care-home victim of the coronavirus.
Younger than my dad by 6 years, they were a generation apart: Dad's formative years were in the 50s, John was a product of the 60s. At one level he was a mass of contradictions: conventional to his boot-laces in appearance, wacky in his ideas; modest in his habits, prone to extravagant generosity; diligent in his commitments, hopelessly unrealistic in his business dealings. His employment reflected his profile: following graduation from Art College in London and a spate of short term contracts, he became design consultant for the army in Scotland.
As expatriate kids, my siblings and I relied on John being "in loco parentis" whenever we returned to the home country. He fulfilled his responsibility with flair: whether it was purging the luggage which Mum had carefully packed of items he reckoned would be embarrassing in the cut and thrust of boarding school, or trips to the Royal Highland Show, or the legendary pancakes which he served up on out-weekends.
John's entertaining was not for cissies. Guests were greeted with a flourish, yet it was not until everyone had arrived that he would begin to cook. You were fortunate to get out by midnight but you would have been lavished - with food and hospitality.
His marriage was brief and not entirely happy, though he was happy to have been married. He rebooted his life by abandoning employment to set up on his own as an exhibition designer. This grandiose title did not, unfortunately, bear fruit in any actual jobs. If he was disappointed he never showed it, continuing to breeze through life with his apparently carefree eccentricity. Family homes are adorned with his handiwork, not to mention his gifts. He was not an entirely free spirit, for he was fiercely committed to his local church, which he attended faithfully and to whose choir he added his mellifluous singing voice.
While he may not have been a successful businessman, John’s skills as an artist received their due reward in his appointment as a governor of the Edinburgh College of Art. This late marriage of academic and artistic interests found further expression in his research into the Dunvegan Cup and a degree in History from the University of Edinburgh.
John's latter years were marred by dementia. My sister, Katrina, and her husband and 4 boys bore the brunt of his care initially. Fielding his frequent visits, they also provided cups of tea for the police who would be called in afterwards to investigate the spurious crimes of which he would have accused them!
For his own well-being, John was moved into care. The first attempt was not a success. On one visit the family was informed that John had escaped, whereupon my father spotted John climbing over the boundary wall. John kept himself in good shape but Dad was known for his explosive speed off the blocks, so was able to apprehend him. John's next roost was more to his taste: The Elms nursing home in Edinburgh, run by Crossreach. Here he enjoyed what may well have been the happiest years of his life. The staff were wonderful and residents enjoyed his gentlemanly ways: courteous, cheerful, humorous and kind.
As with so much about him, it would be difficult to pin my uncle down regarding his faith. But, trusting in the mercy of God and in the purity of John's heart, I am laying hold of the verse at the top of this page and drawing comfort from believing that he has received the ultimate summons.