Mr Robert M MacLeod
“Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” So the Psalmist prayed, and we ourselves have much need of pleading for such help when the number of the Lord’s people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is so sadly diminished. How great is the blank caused by the passing away of even one godly, faithful, zealous and prayerful supporter of the cause of Christ. Such a man was Robert MacKay MacLeod, who died on 28 November 2006 at the great age of 92.
Robert was born in Inshegra, Kinlochbervie, in July 1914, the second youngest of the eight children of William MacLeod and his wife Christina. From them he had the priceless privilege of a Christian upbringing. His father, who was regarded as a godly man, although he never became a communicant in the Church, was conscientious in performing his baptismal vows to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Like many of his generation Robert, or Boban, as he was affectionately known, had to leave school in his early teens to work the family croft. As a tall and strong young man, he was also employed in roadmaking, including an early reconstruction of the Laxford to Kinlochbervie road.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Robert joined the army. He was one of a group of soldiers for whom Rev William Grant of Halkirk prayed fervently as they were on their way to be enlisted. Mr Grant, having been an army officer in France during the First World War, knew the horrors of war and was very concerned about the welfare of the young recruits.
His biographer describes a Monday morning when Mr Grant was at Helmsdale station waiting for a train to take him home to Halkirk. A large number of territorial soldiers from west Sutherland
was assembled on the platform, waiting for the train to take them south. He felt deeply for these lads – he knew how they felt. Climbing a few steps of the railway stairs, he called them to attention. They did so willingly. They had said their goodbyes to those dear to them in the little farms and homesteads of west Sutherland – those brave farewells when one cannot say much because the heart is too full. Mr Grant gathered them around him and he prayed – prayed that God would bless them and the loved ones left behind, that He would be with them in whatever lay ahead in the unknown future, that some day He would bring them all back in safety if that was His will and, above all else, that they would entrust their souls to Jesus, the great Saviour, who died for those who will believe in Him.
Over twenty years afterwards, when Mr Grant and his wife were going round bidding goodbye to their Helmsdale friends before their retiral to Dingwall, an elderly lady sitting on a window-sill nearby, called out: ‘Is Mrs Grant there?’ On going over to the old lady, Mrs Grant was told, ‘I was wishing to tell you, in case you did not know, that all the Scouts or Territorials who were at Helmsdale station waiting for a train to take them to join the forces, and for whom Mr Grant so earnestly prayed for their safety, all came back safely from the war’. This story was completely new to Mrs Grant. Sometimes in later days, when Mr Grant had retired to Dingwall, men would come to speak to him on the streets to tell him that they were there [on Helmsdale Station platform] that day. There are moments in life which always stay with one. To the Lord be the glory in answering prayer for Jesus’ sake.
The next year, Robert, who was now in the Lovat Scouts regiment, was posted to the Faroe Islands. Before sailing to the Islands his platoon was billeted at Braal Castle in Halkirk, Caithness for a short time. Rev William Grant heard of this and arranged with their commanding officer for a number of them to be taken to church in Halkirk. After each service he entertained them to a meal in his manse. It would appear that some impressions of a spiritual kind were made upon Robert, and he always cherished fond memories of Mr Grant.
After being garrisoned for two years in the Faroe Islands, Robert was for a short period at Balmoral Castle as a member of the royal guard to King George VI during his annual holiday there. Then, along with his comrades-in-arms, he was sent to Canada to undergo extremely arduous training, in winter conditions, in the skills and strategies of mountain warfare. The regiment was later sent to Italy and landed at Naples. It assisted the Eighth Army by operating in mountainous areas behind enemy lines. A history of the Lovat Scouts states that “their value to the Eighth Army was immense”. It came as no surprise to those who knew Robert well that he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He had several narrow escapes – once a shell exploded close to him – and it was ever a great wonder to him that his life was spared.
After the war he became gamekeeper on Gualin Estate, a few miles from Kinlochbervie, and then manager of its sporting interests. “Indeed,” says an obituary in the national press, “he became an institution revered by colleagues, neighbours, friends, tenants, visitors and not least his employers.” Those who visited the estate were much impressed by his warm, energetic personality and his considerable knowledge of nature and wildlife. Some were even more impressed by what one frequent visitor described as “his unimpeachable integrity”. “His blameless life was an object lesson to us all,” said the same visitor.
Robert was ever a regular worshipper in the Kinlochbervie and Scourie congregation. However, it was not until 1974, and at the age of 60, that he made a profession of faith in Christ, during a communion season in the Scourie part of the congregation. We have no knowledge of when the great change took place. He was not one to talk about the Lord’s secret dealings with his soul, although he was a lively conversationalist who could enter into the experiences of believers in a knowledgeable and profitable manner. It would appear, however, that he was savingly changed long before he made a profession of faith, for he was heard to express his regret that he had not become a communicant sooner.
In 1975, he was ordained to the eldership in the congregation. His warm-hearted and zealous interest in the Kinlochbervie and Scourie congregation was very evident. Some people can also testify to his generous support of the congregation. Each Sabbath, in those early years when the congregation was larger, his vehicle would be seen going to various local places as he picked up people to take them to church. It was always his heart’s desire to do what he could to promote Christ’s kingdom in his own area and beyond.
It was late in life that Robert married. In October 1977, he was united in marriage to Mary Ross, Ardmore, the sister of his fellow elder, Robert Ross. She was his like-minded helper to the end. Their home was a warm and welcoming one which was especially busy at communion seasons.
When Robert retired from Gualin in 1979 and settled in Rhuvolt, Kinlochbervie, he was able to devote even more time to the interests of the congregation. As a fluent Gaelic speaker and a gifted precentor with a strong, melodious voice, he regularly led the praise in God’s house. He also had the duty, along with his brother elder, of conducting services in the congregation during the periods when it was pastorless.
He also conducted services in the Halkirk congregation, of which he was an assessor elder for many years. Year after year, and into his ninetieth year, he most willingly drove to Halkirk once a month for a weekend. How greatly he is missed there as well as in Kinlochbervie and Scourie!
He delighted to commend Christ to his hearers. While the physical deliverances he experienced in war were a wonder to him, there was nothing so wonderful in his view as God delivering a soul from sin by Jesus Christ. He delighted in the Scripture prophecy, “His name shall be called Wonderful”, and often referred to the Saviour as “the wonderful One”. In speaking at fellowship meetings, his illustrations, mostly drawn from his experience of shepherding, were not only graphic but also helpful in delineating the work of grace in the soul of a believer, and the spiritual experiences which characterise the flock of the Good Shepherd.
During the last year of his life he was prevented by failing health from attending public worship, but his heart was there. He was fully one with the Psalmist who, when prevented from worshipping God publicly, exclaimed with deep longing:
How lovely is Thy dwelling-place,
O Lord of hosts, to me!
The tabernacles of Thy grace
how pleasant, Lord, they be!
(Psa. 84:1 metrical.)
Robert especially longed to attend a communion season once again. “Would it not be lovely,” he asked his wife one day, “to go to a communion?” but that was not to be. He was now also beginning to long to be in God’s house above. Towards the end of his days he was overheard praying, “O Lord, take us home”.
The desire of his soul was granted, we assuredly believe, when he passed away peacefully a few days after being taken to hospital last November. As a soldier for king and country he lived up to his old regiment’s motto, Je Suis Prest (I am ready), but more importantly he had, by grace, the absolutely-necessary readiness for the call of the King of kings to leave the company of the Church militant to join the Church triumphant.
Robert MacLeod was of a warm, cheerful disposition and possessed natural dignity and frankness, but he was, above everything, a spiritually-minded man who walked humbly with his God, exalted the Saviour and furthered His cause. He loved the brethren, frequented the throne of grace, and kept his garments unspotted from the world. We mourn his passing and pray that others will be raised up in his place to serve the Lord in their own day and generation. “A seed shall serve Him” (Psa. 22:30).
We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his grieving widow in her painful bereavement. May she be upheld by the Lord and experience the fulfilment of His gracious word to His people in their losses and loneliness: “Thy Maker is thy husband” (Isa. 54:5).
Rev Neil M Ross is minister of the Dingwall and Beauly congregations of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This obituary is taken with permission from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, June 2007.
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