Ian was born in Bellevue Road, Edinburgh. His father ran a light engineering and model making business in Frederick Street.
In 1917 the family moved out to Newbridge on the outskirts of the city where Ian attended Ratho Primary School. Then, travelling by train to Edinburgh, he attended secondary school at the Royal High School. The family again moved, this time to Corstorphine around 1930. Ian started learning his trade as a piano and organ tuner and restorer with Methven Simpson Ltd (music house). He was proficient at playing both instruments. Ian moved to London to continue his trade until 1940 when he joined the RAF. He trained as a Wireless Operator and was stationed in South Africa until 1945, flying as an operator in planes teaching air crew.
He returned to Methven Simpson, and in 1947 was the standby instrument technician retuning the instruments in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh during the early days of the Edinburgh Festival recitals. In 1948 he accompanied a piano which had been gifted to the Iona Community.
Later in 1948 he took advantage of the scheme to train returning servicemen, and studied Technical Drawing and Woodwork at Gordon College in Aberdeen. After completing the course, he was appointed to the position at Keil School, Dumbarton in 1950 and remained there until his retirement in 1977. He returned to Corstorphine, Edinburgh, continuing to play golf regularly into his late eighties. In recent years he moved, along with his sister Mary, to a care home at Murrayfield.
Ian was more than just a teacher: he was a mentor, a person of high standards, a strict disciplinarian and a person of compassion, who had the ability to reprimand a wayward pupil or correct an immature reaction. At that time it may have appeared harsh; however the pupil on reflection understood and to this day, up to sixty years on, remembered his tutelage and guidance. Mr MacDonald, better known as Wee Aye, left a lasting set of high standards allowing no compromise for thousands of pupils at Keil.
Ian MacDonald on his 100th Birthday
He was a very lively and able centenarian, fondly relaying stories of his time Keil and its more famous or notorious pupils.
He had two sisters, Barbara who died aged 101 in 2007 and Mary who died aged 98. Neither Ian nor his sisters married.
Written by a personal friend, Tom Govenlock,
Reminiscences of some of his pupils at Keil:
Bill Menzies (1949-53)
Ian put a great deal of trust in boys on whom he could depend. When Ian arrived at Keil in 1950, he possessed a black ‘Morris 8’ (2-seater) open top – a ‘Tourer’ I think it was called then. The car had covered a high mileage in its time and it was patently obvious by its performance that the engine badly needed a ‘de-coke’. Who better than my classmate Ben Mundell – whose father had a garage and ran a taxi service in Tarbert, Loch Fyne – to do the job! Stripping the engine to expose valves and tappets was a piece of cake to Ben, and I clearly remember the courtyard in front of ‘New House’ (latterly ‘McKinnon House’), and Ian’s car with all the valves and tappets laid out in precise order on a newspaper and Ben happy as anything, grinding in the valves. Class mates all around were frankly astounded at what we saw that day. Where Ben got the nickname ‘Tiddler’ I never knew , but by jove we thought he was the cat’s whiskers watching him attempt a job the rest of us hadn’t a clue about! Was he successful? Absolutely! ‘Wee Aye’ was delighted with the result, but I doubt if he ever found out how some of us had a ‘go’ at driving his car later that great day. We were only in our 2nd Year!
Donald Leckie (1950-54)
Shortly after Ian joined Keil in 1950, he threw me (deservedly!) out of the Gilbert & Sullivan choir for misbehaviour. However, he had noticed my enjoyment of the music and he soon loaned me gramophone records, which encouraged me to develop a lifelong interest in classical music. I was pleased to be able to return this kindness by visiting him regularly in his later years, swapping many stories about our times at Keil.
Brian Oswald (1962-67)
… Wee Aye lived to the age of 102, but I wasn’t surprised – the man was amazing! He didn’t rush around and wave his arms about, like some of his contemporary colleagues, but just went quietly about the business of teaching us skills that would serve us all of our days. I left Keil in 1967, but every time I use a saw, I can still hear him saying, “Let the saw do the job it was designed for – cutting wood – your arm and hand are only there to move it back and forward in a straight line!” And my favourite one…..”Stop PUSHING that pencil: this is called technical drawing for a good reason – DRAW it along the line!”
They don’t make teachers like Ian any more, I fear. It won’t be long before people will have forgotten how to sharpen chisels; they’ll just throw them away and buy a new one from B & Q. I am still using some of the chisels regularly that I bought in about 1970, and even a couple that I inherited from my grandfather which probably date back another 50 years or so before that. They are all a bit shorter than when they were new, but they still take a keen edge, thanks to Ian’s teaching! The same goes for my 1970s Stanley planes
Tim Holland (1970 to 76)
I still remember him fondly and always think of him if I do any woodwork projects around the house. “Fingers behind the cutting blade” is a saying of his that has probably saved me a few flesh wounds over the years. It was the same with the technical drawing skills that he passed on to us all. I never did work out how he could be so neat when writing block letters on the blackboard.
Mike Dovaston (1962 – 67)
I was most interested to see Tom Govenlock’s obituary on Ian MacDonald. I understood we would be told about Wee Aye’s funeral arrangements? Did any of the Old Boys go to the funeral and if so who was there and were there any of the Keil masters there?
I would have attended for sure. Please post this on the KSOB website. I would have emailed but cant seem to get logged in and the club email is not working*. Are others experiencing difficulties? Hope this doesn’t inconvenience you. Yours Mike Dovaston.
A sad day indeed and an end to another chapter of Keil history.
* Apologies to Mike – The club email account was full – if you cant get through on the usual address please try our new hotmail accout firstname.lastname@example.org