Thirty Years Our Chief

Published

by Ian Maclean

Sir Lachlan MacleanWhen reminded that 2020 would be his thirtieth year as Chief of Clan Maclean, Sir Lachlan commented that thirty years was not really that long, - and he hoped that we wouldn’t make a “fuss” over it. Typical! Mind you, from the perspective of the tenure of the last two Chiefs, perhaps he is just hitting his stride. His father was Chief for 54 years. His grandfather never became Chief, because Sir Lachlan’s great-grandfather, Sir Fitzroy— yes the one who rebuilt Duart Castle, was 101 when he died, and had been Chief for 53 years. He became Chief in 1883. Imagine just three Chiefs over that span of time, and all three notable. We are a fortunate clan indeed.

It only dawned on me that this was his 30th year, when I happened to see, and reread a fascinating article on Sir Lachlan. It was written by Charles MacLean (Charlie Whisky) who was the Editor of the Clan Maclean Association’s newsletter in 1991, and was written after Sir Lachlan’s first year serving as our Chief. Charlie’s title, A Dedicated Chief, remains just as true today as it was 30 years ago.

Charlie noted that the Chief …is without snobbery or bombast. He has (the) modesty, good humour and calm…. In these regards he hasn’t changed. I remember early in my Maclean involvement, being told that while some Clan Chiefs are full of themselves, ours was definitely not. I also recall him telling me that he felt a bit of an imposter, being a “Sir” as he felt he hadn’t personally earned it! It just came with the job. He still sees being Chief as no more than being primus inter pares, first among equals. He truly enjoys the job, and make no mistake, it is a job. His top priority has always been looking after Duart, as it is the “spiritual” home of all Macleans and our septs— regardless of spelling or branch of the clan. Further it must be open and available for people to visit. Maintaining (and actually restoring) this grand old building is a never ending struggle, and you will all be aware of the major restoration Duart is now undergoing. Unfortunately much the same process was carried out in the 90’s, but primarily because of a specific lime mortar, prescribed by Historic Scotland, those repairs were counterproductive. The Chief and his son Malcolm are part of the Duart Restoration Advisory group that is fundraising to make this massive undertaking a reality, and personally oversees the renovations. He asked me to send out a heartfelt thank you to all the wonderful donors, both large and small who, along with his family, and Historic Scotland, have made this massive effort possible. Those who attend the Gathering in 2022 will see the results!

Sometime ago, I found a description of what Highland Chiefs were supposed to do, and be, in the heyday of the clans. Unfortunately I don’t recall who it was, but it said: ….the chief was as much a servant and representative of his clan as he was its leader. He had to be politically savvy, economically shrewd, and a strong captain in war. Above all, the chief had to be a good father to his followers; the word clan actually means ‘children’ in Gaelic.

From the beginning of his tenure, Sir Lachlan saw himself as having a responsibility to be involved, and supportive of the clan, it’s associations, and of course individual Macleans. He recognizes, and does a fine job, of walking that fine line between being the symbolic head—as opposed to the elected leader(s). He can and does provide (usually quiet) leadership and even direction—if he must. I recall times when there was turmoil in, or among, associations, or individuals, and he quietly stepped in and helped calm the waters, and reminded all that we need to communicate well, and work together to move forward. A different example of this leadership was when senior eleA chief was expected to kindly greet and shake the hand of the lowest, poorest member of his clan as an equal. He was also expected to boldly lead his warriors on raids and into battle. He had to be wise enough to keep the economy of his clan ever growing and prosperous.

Today’s Chief has many of the same duties, without the power.From the beginning of his tenure, Sir Lachlan saw himself as having a responsibility to be involved, and supportive of the clan, it’s associations, and of course individual Macleans. He recognizes, and does a fine job, of walking that fine line between being the symbolic head—as opposed to the elected leader(s). He can and does provide (usually quiet) leadership and even direction—if he must. I recall times when there was turmoil in, or among, associations, or individuals, and he quietly stepped in and helped calm the waters, and reminded all that we need to communicate well, and work together to move forward. A different example of this leadership was when senior elected clan positions became tenuous, because of sickness, or other unforeseen causes, and, behind the scenes, he stepped in to find individuals who could carry on.

A lot has changed since Sir Lachlan became our Chief. There have been many positive innovations. Because he is not prone to “selling” himself, I am sure he would downplay his role in these events, and/or approaches. I would respectfully suggest that without his support and participation, that they would not have happened— or continued. One that immediately comes to my mind is the wonderful practice of having International Maclean Gatherings at Duart every five years. This, both began, and has continued during his tenure. Clearly our “mother” association Scotland, has taken the lead in planning and organizing these events, but the Chief provides not only his support and participation but also the venue— our wonderful Duart! He always takes a positive role in the Clan Congress, at the Gatherings, as well as in the more “fun” activities.

The Clan Maclean Heritage Trust has been a major force worldwide to recognize, educate and remember important accomplishments, and events in which Macleans played a critical role as a clan, and as individuals. Sir Lachlan was a strong proponent of its creation, and has played a key role from its inception in 1996. The Trust was founded to continue the good work of CMA (Scotland), and also to complement its ongoing activities. It has done that and more. Sir Lachlan, as Chief, is the only permanent member of the Trust, and has served as Chair.

While the number of Associations has remained roughly the same, with some unfortunately dying, while others have been instituted, or revived, the communication amongst them has improved greatly. The Clan Maclean International Association came into being— after a few false starts, in 2002, and while never an incorporated or “senior” (in a hierarchal sense) association, it has been able to play the role of an ongoing communication hub, for sharing ideas, concerns, and for joint planning amongst the associations worldwide. At roughly the same time a “virtual association “ came into being (Maclean.net) as a way of linking Macleans worldwide, who either had no access to geographic associations, or for those who preferred this means of celebrating their “Macleanery”. Continuing this electronic communication theme, it is important to note that many associations now have websites. Facebook groups, some specialized groups like a “youth” Maclean group, and specific purpose groups, have been created when needed. The Chief strongly supports all such efforts at improving communication, although I hasten to add that computer expertise is not at the top of his list of strengths! Mind you, I am in no position to criticize!

Realizing that all Macleans can’t get to Duart, and/or the Gatherings, the Chief has made a point to try and physically visit Macleans in different countries. Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., and Canada have been fortunate enough to host him—most on more than one occasion. It is clear that air transport has (at least before the corona virus) become much simpler, and quicker, but it is still a major effort to make such trips. Also it often interferes with his job of running and being the Chief host at Duart. He tells me he is not a natural extrovert, but those of us who have met him, know he does always rise to these occasions, and makes many of us Macleans happy to be able to say “we met the Chief”! He continues, as did his predecessors, to make a point to try and attend most meetings and events which involve CMA (Scotland), and indeed those in London.


Sir Lachlan being presented with a stained glass birlinn while on his Canadian visit in 2003. From left to right, Ian MacLean, Colin Cameron— stained glass artist, Sir Lachlan, and Frank MacLean.

A major regret is that the Clan has still not developed a genealogy center. This was, and still is, one of Sir Lachlan’s dreams. It may yet come to pass! Information has been gathered in a few spots, including at the Mull Museum, and on line, but we aren’t there yet. An interesting adjunct to this interest is the formation of a Maclean DNA project that could add/complement such a center.

As mentioned earlier the one responsibility that is paramount for him, is Duart Castle. He understands the long term importance of having the castle open and available to visiting Macleans, and of course others, but recognizes that it is almost equally important for the Chief to be personally approachable and available. That isn’t always convenient, or nearly as exciting for him as it is for us. But he does it, and for the most part enjoys meeting Macleans and hearing their stories. Most of these encounters with visiting Macleans are in his role as “host” for Duart. However sometimes it is more than that. How exciting must it have been for two of our (Atlantic) members (and their two children) to be not only be married at Duart, but to have been personally congratulated by their Chief and his wife? I could go on about the great job Sir Lachlan and his staff to do make visitors welcome, but the numerous awards, and magazine articles speak for that excellence.

Who is this man? Sir Lachlan Maclean, Bt, (Baronet of Nova Scotia) CVO, is the 28th Chief of Clan Maclean. He was born August 25, 1942 to Lord Charles and Elizabeth Maclean. Weeks after his birth he was taken to Duart because the western Highlands were safer than the suburbs of London during World War II. Sir Lachlan’s early years were thus spent at Duart, so it really is his home, as well as ours!

In 1966 he married Mary Gordon. At the time, Lachlan (not yet a sir) was a Lieutenant in the Scots Guards, a regiment that his father and grandfather had served with before him. During his army career he served in many countries around the world, and served in combat operations. He volunteered, and was selected for the elite SAS (Special Air Service). He served with them for four years. Major Maclean rejoined his regiment and eventually left the Army in 1973.

At the age of 29, it was time to decide, was he to be a career military man, or was it time to try civilian life. He recalls thinking that leaving before he was thirty, would allow him to start a new career. A key factor was the desire to be at home with Mary and his children. They had five children, Emma, the Maid of Morvern, Sarah, who died age two, Malcolm Ygr. of Duart and Morvern, Alexandra, and Andrew. Following Sir Lachlan's retirement from the army, the family moved to Arngask House in Perthshire.

He received a number of job offers, but began working for United Biscuits. This new career was more stable—and far more quiet. He started with a Scottish subsidiary, Crawfords in Edinburgh. He then reluctantly moved to their head office in London, as his intention had been to stay in Scotland. Heworked with them until 1993.

Public service was not left behind. In 1993 he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute. For many years he was a member of the Royal Company of Archers, the traditional bodyguard of the Monarch in Scotland. He served as Adjutant before being appointed as Silver Stick for Scotland during the 1999 state visit of Queen Elizabeth II for the opening of the Scottish Parliament. One of the many ceremonial duties he carried out as Silver Stick

Following his retirement from United Biscuits he served on the Board of Trustees and as Secretary of the Robertson Trust, an independent charitable Scottish trust whose priorities are community-based care, health, education, art, and sport.

On the passing of his father in 1990 Lachlan, now properly “Sir Lachlan” became Chief, and inherited Duart. Lady (Mary) Maclean, despite retaining her pride in her Gordon roots— which was only proper as she immersed herself into her duties as wife of the Chief of Clan Maclean. She not only accompanied him to innumerable Maclean functions, but became the hostess of Duart, and was the stalwart behind the Gift shop and Tea room. She confided in my wife Marjorie, that although she was proud of that role, and happy to wear Maclean tartan, that she also kept a piece of Gordon tartan in her pocket! After a long and brave battle with cancer, Mary passed away on the 30th day of December in 2007.

Meantime the children were grown up. Emma, the Maid of Morvern, and her family live in Wiltshire. Emma is married to Giovanni Amati who worked in the City, but they now organize weddings and other events at their house near Malmesbury. They have four children, Cosimo who is just leaving University, Alberto who is sitting his ‘A’ Levels this year, and twins, Francesco and Cecelia.

Malcolm the Younger of Duart, (and thus heir to the Chiefship), with his wife Anna, own and operate a consultancy firm SRE, based near Petersfield in Hampshire. They work on renewable energy and advise many of the large contractors on how they can minimize energy consumption in their projects. They have three boys, Oscar who is leaving school this summer and going to University, Fergus and Archie, who are at school near Petersfield.

Alexandra is married to Colin Allan who works for BP and they are currently based in Trinidad, with their three girls, Betsy, Tessa and Clova. They moved to Trinidad last summer after having spent 4 years at Baku in Azerbaijan.

The Chief’s youngest son Andrew works for Tiso in Edinburgh, who are an outdoor clothing and equipment specialists, who are based in the city as well.

All the children, and their children—holiday at Duart and meet the Clan regularly at the Gatherings.

On the 8th of September in 2010, Sir Lachlan married Mrs. Rosemary Mayfield. Lady (Rosie) Maclean is the widow of Lt.-Col. Richard Mayfield, DSO, LVO, a fellow Scots Guards officer of Sir Lachlan’s. Lady Maclean was born a Matheson, and her family came from Dornie in the West Highlands. The two families had been friends since Sir Lachlan and Richard served together in the Scots Guards.

The Chief remains committed to open communication, and wants to know from Clan members, associations, and visitors what we wish from him. We can only hope that we have many more years of his dedicated leadership. He is a great guy…….

Official site of Clan Maclean Association in the United States,
a member organization of Clan Maclean International