Donald Francis Macdonald, a co-founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, passed away on February 18, 2021. Donald was 94 years old.
Combining efforts with Agnes MacRae Morton, Donald began work in earnest in 1955 with planning for the first Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on August 19, 1956. The event was successful beyond their wildest dreams, and by 1958 they had moved to a two-day Games held the second full weekend in July each year. Donald served as the first President of the Games until he moved to Scotland in 1961.
Donald never lost touch with the Games, and remained an active participant until 2015 when health considerations would no longer permit regular attendance.
Donald Macdonald was a man of many talents and held a number of distinctive awards, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award available in North Carolina. Of all his accomplishments, his work in co-founding the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games was the thing of which he was most proud, and the event he spoke about most often.
Go in Peace Donald. We will not see the like of you again.
Stephen Quillin, GMHG President 2021
Donald Francis MacDonald’s Obituary
Donald F. MacDonald passed away peacefully on February 18, 2021 at the age of 94 at Embrace Hospice House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He was born at home in the Carolina Presbyterian Church Community in Dillon County, South Carolina in 1926. Donald was the seventh of eight children born to K. McLaurin MacDonald and Mary MacQueen MacDonald. In his younger days, Donald was known as Frank. He began referring to himself by his first name Donald after he moved to Scotland in later years. Donald attended Little Rock Elementary and then Dillon High School where he graduated in 1942. He then attended Presbyterian College before joining the US Navy, in which he served during WWII. After the war was over, Donald enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill and graduated from the School of Journalism in 1948. He then accepted a job as a reporter with the Charlotte News in North Carolina. When Donald was in Charlotte, he was well known as a bachelor about town and his Roaring Twenties parties on his birthday were a celebrated tradition. In fact, Charles Kuralt, the well-known TV journalist with CBS from 1957 until 1997, wrote about Donald’s parties in his book North Carolina Is My Home.
Donald was fascinated with Scotland because of his ancestral ties there. He first travelled back to Scotland in the 1950s. After he returned, he was inspired to start the world-famous Grandfather Mountain Highland Games near Linville, North Carolina with Mrs. Agnes McRae Morton in 1956. He served as the President of the Games until 1961. In addition, he started the first Scottish Country Dance group in North Carolina and brought the Black Watch Pipes and Drums to Charlotte for a military tattoo.
On a subsequent trip to Scotland, Donald met the Scottish actress and Gaelic singer Marietta MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. After a long-distance courtship, Donald and Marietta planned to marry. When Marietta landed in Charleston in 1960, they headed to Linville, NC for an old-fashioned Scottish wedding complete with kilts and pipe band. It was such a spectacle that it was featured in an edition of Life magazine, complete with many pictures of the wedding.
In 1961, Donald and Marietta returned to Scotland to live. After residing in Glasgow and Dunlop, they settled in Edinburgh where Donald was a reporter for the Weekly Scotsman. Donald eventually joined the faculty of Napier College in Edinburgh, where he taught for a number of years until his retirement. In retirement, Donald wrote of the Scottish cultural revivalist movement in North Carolina in his book America’s Braemar: Grandfather Mountain and the Rebirth of Scottish Identity Across USA which was self-published in 2007. This work was a culmination of his life’s interest in Scottish culture in America.
Donald’s wife and sister-in-law were both renowned Gaelic singers in Scotland and from them Donald developed a great love for Gaelic song. With the help pf his nephew Jamie, Donald started the United States National Mòd, a Gaelic song competition similar to the ones in Scotland. This was originally in Alexandria, Virginia but later moved to Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
In the 1990s, Donald returned to Grandfather Mountain to promote the Gaelic language. Although Donald was not a fluent Gaelic speaker, he learned Gaelic songs by a system of phonetics and wanted to share his love for Gaelic song with others. Donald began hosting a Gaelic singing tent on the field at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games with the help of his nephew Jamie. Donald would teach Gaelic song and Jamie would teach Gaelic language lessons.
In 1999, Donald and nephew Jamie started the North Carolina Provincial Gaelic Mòd at the Grandfather Games. In the very beginning, there were so few Mòd competitors that Donald had to enter the song competition himself! This echoed his performance at the very first Grandfather Mountain Highland Games where Donald had to compete in the Highland Fling because there were too few competitors.
Donald was a great storyteller and singer. He loved to regale audiences with his stories and songs. Many of the stories that he told concerned his family and Carolina Community as well as Scottish culture and history. Others he learned from his father and concerned “The War” where Yankee Federalist troops invaded South Carolina in 1865, subsequently visiting Carolina Community and plundering his family’s farm there.
In addition to his love of Gaelic song, Donald was very fond of Scots poetry, especially Robert Burns. He was the president of the Colinton Burns Club when he resided in Edinburgh. Donald was probably the only American to hold such a position in all of Scotland. He loved to recite Burns’ poetry and he was called upon to give the Address to the Haggis on numerous occasions. He even had a prop that he used when he said “as lang’s my arm!” (His arm would extend to almost twice its length.) Donald was so well versed in the life of Roberts Burns and his poetry that he was often called upon to give the “Immortal memory” speech as well.
Donald was always the life of the party. He loved his dram and he was well known for his drinking of the tree at Christmas time. Donald had a serious side, however. He was raised in the Presbyterian faith and he loved to attend church. He knew all the hymns, and at Brightwater assisted living in Myrtle Beach, he led the choir at their church services. In addition, he was often called upon by the minister to lead the congregation in prayer.
Donald was predeceased by his parents, his wife Marietta, and all of his siblings – four brothers (Dr. Malcolm John MacDonald, Col. Charles Brown MacDonald, Alexander McRae (Rae) MacDonald, and Robert McLaurin (Bob) MacDonald), and one sister Flora MacDonald Gammon. Two brothers, James and Roderick, passed away as infants. He is survived by nephews Dr. James Roderick (Jamie) MacDonald, Alexander McRae (Mac) MacDonald, Jr., Richard Rhea MacDonald, and Bruce MacQueen MacDonald. Surviving nieces include Jackie MacDonald Hendrix (who cared for Donald in his last years), Sandra MacDonald Adams, Moire MacDonald Latamore, and Sona MacDonald. His niece Flora Gammon predeceased him. In addition, he is survived by his sister-in-law Ingrid MacDonald (Bob’s wife) and grand as well as great grand nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to Carolina Church Cemetery Fund, 4756 Parrish Mill Rd., Clio, SC 29525.