Obituary: Isles mourn loss of popular councillor Iain Morrison

Iain Morrison
Iain Morrison

On July 31, Iain Morrison or, as he was better known, Iain a’ Mhillichan, lost his courageous fight with cancer at the Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway.

Iain had fought bravely against his illness for the past 14 months with a positive attitude, and still kept his amazing sense of humour right up until the end, even though he was suffering.

There were many strands to Iain’s life and he packed a lot into his 60 years. Iain, along with his brother Calum, followed their father Angus - or as he was better known Am Billeachan - into the family business of Galson Motors which he had founded in 1948. Galson Motors are the longest established bus company in Lewis and the brothers carried on the excellent services that were started by their late father.

Not only did they provide a reliable bus service for the north end of the Island but, over the years, they have been very generous sponsors of community events, not just on the West Side and Ness, but throughout the Islands. Iain didn’t seem to have the word no in his vocabulary, as many will testify to his many kind acts of generosity over the years, nothing ever seemed a problem if it meant helping individuals or community groups, Galson Motors must have more trophies and cups named after them than any other company in the Islands particularly in the sporting field.

Iain himself was a keen sportsman in his younger days, playing as a goalkeeper for West Side, United and Ness, and he has a unique place in the history of Island football.

In 1978 he turned out for two clubs in two different competitions on the same night. He played for West Side who were entering the Eilean an Fhraoich Cup competition as a non league team, for the first half of their game, he arrived at Fivepenny to play for Ness (who he was playing for that season) in the 2nd half of their league game that night.

He played for United in 1979 and was part of their squad that played against Celtic B.C, a side which included a future Manchester United manager Davie Moyes and a future Scottish Internationalist Pat Nevin. In 1984, he played for the Country team in the Annual Old Crocks challenge match against the Town, no one obviously bothered to ask Iain his age, as to qualify to play for the Old Crocks you had to be 35 - Iain was only 29!

The following season with West Side re entering the Lewis and Harris League, he was their keeper for a large part of the season. The following season he was their manager after having given up playing.

In 1983, Galson Motors, through Iain, became the shirt sponsors to Ness F.C, a sponsorship deal that continues successfully 32 years later, and is the longest running sponsorship in Island football.

In 1999, he entered the political arena - being elected the new councillor for the Barvas ward, defeating the then sitting councillor. In the three subsequent elections he topped the poll each time, proving his popularity and his standing in the local community. For him politics was about helping people and organisations and trying to make his community a better place, the dark side of politics didn’t interest him one little bit, he concentrated on the issues and not on the personalities.

A spell as the vice chairman of the Arts and Leisure committee brought him another hat, that of the newly formed Western Isles Island a Games Association or WIIGA. The Western Isles took part in their first games in Shetland in 2005 and under the Chairmanship of Iain they made huge improvements in terms of medals won in all the games since then.

Iain stood down as chairman after the Island games in Bermuda in 2013. Iain was a good ambassador for the Western Isles and WIIGA couldn’t have had a better leader than him when it came to getting sponsorship from companies, he had a unique ability to get people to part with money, and games after games they never ever failed to get the money that was required to take part in the event.

He was a superb networker, who was good at gathering support for the Western Isles team whenever it was needed.

At community level he was a great support to many community organisations and individuals, he had an approachable manner which made it easy for people to speak to him. He derived great pleasure from helping people, and many people are thankful for his help over the years. Up until 2014 he took many island groups and especially pensioners on their annual mainland trips, a role he was well suited to, if ever a man was truly fit for that role it was Iain.

He loved the trips and to the pensioners he was a hero who nothing was ever to much bother for him.

From 1986 he was the secretary of the Eilean an Fhraoich Cup competition and it gave him great satisfaction over the past few years to see the West Side dominate the competition, it gave him even greater pleasure to see the West Side team which included his nephew Innes Iain winning the Lewis and Harris League title for the first time last season.

When he became ill in May 2014 he faced his illness with calm and a positivity that you rarely see in a human being, who faced such enormous health challenges, whether at home or in hospital he kept his visitors enthralled with his vast bank of stories and one-liners.

The illness brought him into contact with the Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group and he always tried to attend their meetings every Friday. Over the past few months Iain was on a fundraising drive to buy Accuvein Scanners for each community in the Western Isles. Through his efforts and drive money was raised to buy two scanners, one for the hospital and another for the Wrst Side Community Nursing team based at Borve. These scanners arrived on the Island the week before he passed away, and the fundraising efforts will continue through the Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group with the aim of purchasing a scanner for each area in the Western Isles.

His funeral from the Free Church in Barvas was one of the biggest, if not the biggest ever seen in the area, and it was testimony to the popularity of the man who crammed a lot into his 60 years. Iain a’Mhillichan will be remembered as a big man in stature, personality and kindness and who put community interest before self interest. A character with huge charisma and humour who will be sorely missed in the community, but their loss is nothing compared to the loss felt by his wife Annette, mother Bella, brother Calum, sisters Isobel and Joan and his nephews and nieces.