Sandy May

Sandy May by Alan Hay

With the death on 29 July of Sandy May MBE, The Buchan Heritage Society and indeed the language, literature, music and culture of North East Scotland has lost one of its greatest and most enduring champions. For more than 50 years, Sandy has been at the forefront of activity to protect the Doric tradition in which he grew up.

Sandy was born in Longside, the parish where he would spend most of his life, in 1945 and educated at Peterhead Academy. During his schooldays, he spent his weekends working for his uncle Jim, the farmer of South Linshart, where he would begin his full-time working life on completing his education. A spell in the fishing industry followed, not at sea, but driving a fish lorry between Peterhead and Grimsby. This was in the days before the invention of the tachograph and he would have to make several return journeys each week, to the extent that he practically lived in his vehicle. But it was with the north east based construction company CHAP that Sandy found his niche. Asked to join the business by its founder, fellow Longside man Alasdair Craigie, Sandy spent the rest of his career there, principally as Health and Safety Manager. Sandy’s legendary attention to detail suited him ideally for the role, and many of the papers he wrote and policies he developed came to be adopted by the Health and Safety Executive.

Sandy’s interests outside his professional life were many and varied. He was in intensely practical man, thoughtful and patient, especially when it came to understanding and resolving practical problems. It is recorded that tradesmen were rarely required at Auchlee, even when it came to installing the first central heating system in the house. He developed a passion for motor cycling, leading to a number of thrills, spills and broken bones, continuing to ride his motor bike well into his 70s. As a young man, he got into stock car racing, which he embraced with the same enthusiasm he brought to everything he did. Eager to provide maximum entertainment for his spectators, the organiser of these races discreetly let the young Sandy know that he would pay him a pound every time he rolled his car, an opportunity this canny Aberdonian happily grasped. On at least one occasion, he recovered sufficiently from rolling his vehicle to go on to win the race.

It was, though, for his passion for his beloved north east Scotland that he is best known. Sandy had Buchan in his bones and, together with Vi, he dedicated more than 50 years of his life to the cause of the north east’s unique cultural tradition. He was one of the early members and main drivers of our Society. For many years, he and Vi were the principal organisers of our very successful Strichen Festival, which under Sandy and Vi’s direction, became the flagship event in the Doric calendar, performing vital work in encouraging new, young talent into the sector, and especially in rewarding new work every year in the fields of music, poetry, song and story in the Doric tradition. Sandy’s work for the Society was unsurpassed, much of it done behind the scenes and all voluntary, including the hundreds of hours spent cataloguing, digitising and preserving the Morrison Collection of photographs. He was the co-author of the definitive history of Longside, published in 2000, and for many years President of the Buchan Field Club, which for nearly 150 years has been researching and publishing learned papers on the history, topography and culture of the region. It was a great honour, not only for Sandy, but for all of us when he was awarded an MBE for his work with our language and culture.

But above all, Sandy was a kind and gentle man of great good humour, a dear and good friend to all of us who had the great privilege to know him. His last years were troubled by not one, but two rare cancers, a challenge he faced with immense courage and serenity, approaching an increasingly debilitating condition in the same positive and cheerful frame of mind. He is survived by his wife Vi, children Pauline and Stuart, and grandsons Nathan and Matthew, who have our heartfelt sympathy.