Sandy to be honoured as Freeman of the Isles
Mr Matheson will join a small group who have been given the honour in the near-50 years of the council’s existence in recognition of exceptional contributions to public life in the islands.
With a family pedigree in public office, he was first elected to Stornoway Town Council in 1967 at the age of 25. In 1971, he became Stornoway’s last Provost prior to local government reorganisation, and also its youngest.
When Comhairle nan Eilean was created, he lost the vote to become first Convener, on the cut of the cards, but became chairman of the Development Committee and played a critical role over negotiations to develop the Arnish fabrication yard.
In 1979, he stood for Parliament as Labour candidate but was defeated by Donald Stewart. Then in 1984, he became Convener of the Comhairle and led it successfully for eight years.
Later, Sandy was chairman of Highlands and Islands Airports and he recalled this in an 80th birthday interview with the Gazette last year as “undoubtedly my happiest role in public office along with Bob Macleod, the chief executive and fellow Lewisman”.
Sandy led just about every public body in the Western Isles including Stornoway Trust and the Pier and Harbour Commission. One later role was as chairman of the Harris Tweed Authority in which he also served with distinction and foresight.
In 2002, Sandy was diagnosed with leukaemia. He recalled: “The prognosis was for a five year survival rate coupled with debilitating and painful medical intervention which I refused to undergo. There was a new and untested drug called Imatinib and although so expensive it had not been approved for NHS treatment, my clinician was able to put a case for its use.
“Here I am 20 years later thanks to our truly wonderful NHS”. He became a founder of the Lewis and Harris Men’s Cancer Support Group in which he has remained active. A pharmacist by profession, he maintained the family business throughout his years of public service.
There have been only four previous “Freedom” ceremonies since the inception of Comhairle nan Eilean. The first was to honour Donald Stewart, who served as MP for 17 years, and his wife Chrissie. They were followed by Rev. Donald Macaulay and Father Calum Maclellan, respectively first convener and vice-convener of the Comhairle, who led the transition to an all-islands authority with great distinction.
In 1994, the final ceremonial event of the Queen’s Own Highlanders – a merger of the Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders, both with close island associations – was to be granted the Freedom of the Western Isles, before a further merger.
The most recent recipient of the honour in 1996 was Duncan Morison, the distinguished Lewis-born musician and teacher. The ceremony to instal Mr Matheson as a Freeman will take place in the Comhairle chambers on Monday July 29th.