John Duncan “Ian” MacKenzie

John Duncan “Ian” MacKenzie

Fàilte (Welcome) to the shores of the Atlantic, where the ocean spray coats the windows with salt. Here John Duncan MacKenzie, better known as Ian, was born to Murdo and Marion MacKenzie on March 20, 1942, in the village of Diabaig in the Highlands of Scotland.  He loved to retell the story he heard of his father and uncle taking wheelbarrows of sand from the beach, mixing it by hand to make cement when building the house.

A native Gaelic speaker, he didn’t learn English until primary school in Diabaig.  His schooling continued at Plockton High School where renown Gaelic poet Somhairle MacLean was headteacher. After Plockton he attended Balmacarra Agricultural School. Ian worked as a ghille (guide) for fishermen and hunters on Loch Maree and surrounding hills. At other times he cooked for the crew of his father’s fishing boat, fished, and mended its nets. Ian took an apprenticeship in England to learn the trade of a ventilating engineer.  He stayed until Scotland called him back to the home where he was born.

Watching the 1996 film “Loch Ness” starring Ted Danson, you may have seen Ian in yellow oilskins leaning up against the door of his house. Although some of the scenes were shot around Loch Ness, a large part took place in Diabaig.  Besides this brief appearance, Ian also was in charge of the boats, and assisted with continuity as well as security for the film.  Ian worked for the Highland Council as a heavy goods (equipment) operator and snow-plow driver on public roads, including the steepest one in Scotland until he retired and moved to Ullapool.

In the spring of 2002 he met Susan Cobbs, a Fulbright exchange teacher in Scotland from Herlong High School. Ian said they were “sweet 16” (61).  Although never married and with no passport, by September he had a wife, grandchildren and later a great-granddaughter, “without the trouble of having the children,” his sister told him. An attentive and caring husband, Ian fixed Sue a bowl of porridge most mornings while he prepared bacon, eggs and toast for himself. Passport in hand shortly after marriage, he preferred a window seat on planes to Ireland, Holland, Canada, and destinations in the USA from Niagara Falls, to Yellowstone.  Returning to Scotland, new hat on head, he wondered aloud, “What will folks say about this one?”

When asked about a hobby, “Fishing … my only hobby.”  As a member of the Ullapool Angling Club, he took home many awards, enjoyed the camaraderie, and was responsible for the condition of the club’s boats. He delighted in teaching youngsters to fish, and entering The Big Fish, a charity competition to fight cancer.

Fishing wasn’t his only hobby.  He was a card-master for the local whist club, socialized with the Serve Our Seniors group, and had fun making folks laugh at the Dolphin Arts Project, a group for those living with dementia. In the USA, he and Sue attended Nevada Society of Scottish Clans’ meetings in Reno, and were awarded a Life Membership for monthly articles written over the years.  As a Gaelic tutor he taught friends and parents of children, hoping to help reverse the decline of his native language. On Youtube look for “Ferry Boat Inn” and “Loch Maree Islands” to catch a glimpse of him singing in a local pub.  Of course, being a Highlander, he enjoyed a game of darts or pool, and a dram or two of whisky.

Surviving a stroke in 2015, he lived with ensuing dementia, moving to Chico in December 2022 to live with Susan’s daughter and family. In his short time in the city, he and Sue volunteered with the Butte Humane Society to socialize cats, and sang in local care homes with the Mountain Ridge Singers, visiting residents after a program.

On March 20, 2024, he celebrated his 82nd birthday in the hospital with a bowl of ice cream, attentive as family members read birthday cards to him, their “Papa.”  A true Scot to the end, music was a vital part of him. Even ill, his fingers danced to a Celtic tune.  He returned home on hospice care, and slipped away March 23rd.

He is survived by his wife Susan MacKenzie and her daughter Laurinda Corron, both of Chico, and daughter Elizabeth Cobbs of San Marcos; brothers Murdo MacKenzie of Inverness, Scotland, and Farquhar MacKenzie of Lindsay, Canada; five grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews; and one great-granddaughter.

An informal gathering of family and friends to celebrate his life is scheduled for Monday, April 15, at 1 p.m. in the Janesville Cemetery, followed by a get-together at the Pizza Factory in Susanville, at 2:30 p.m. Everyone who would like to attend is welcome, but no one should feel compelled to be there. If you are comfortable doing so, please refrain from dark clothes, and wear something cheerful to celebrate the good life he led. If you have a photo of Ian you would like to share, please bring a copy with you.  We look forward to hearing the many memories we have all made with Ian and hope to share them over a good cup of sweet tea and a biscuit (cookie). For further information, please contact Sue or Laurinda.

Soraidh leat, Iain, a ghraidh.  (Good-bye, dear Ian.)