Strathy Church of Scotland was filled to capacity as friends, neighbours and colleagues from the various paths he had walked in life gathered to celebrate the life of Donald William Bruce of Tigh na Craig, Bettyhill, who had passed away at Raigmore Hospital on Thursday, 3rd May.
Donald, who hailed originally from Wick, was born on the 6th October 1935, youngest of the five children of William and Margaret Bruce of Alexandra Place, an area of the burgh long since demolished to make room for new development.
William, a market gardener by profession, passed on not just his green fingers (many of the large trees that now adorn the town were planted by him) but also a love of the great outdoors to his only son.
Thus, when Donald Bruce arrived in Bettyhill in 1977 as police sergeant and immediately began to convert the large yard at the station into an incredibly productive vegetable garden surrounded by a willow hedge, the locals assumed that gardening was his main interest.
That is, until a large shed materialised on the common grazing opposite the police house, containing his large collection of fancy poultry, including prize winners in competitions across Scotland, England and Scandinavia.
Not to mention a squadron of rabbits!
His was a very competitive nature, combined with a strong determination to excel at whatever he did. This manifested itself in his early life as an extremely active member of the Thurso Cycling Club where, on long-distance road runs, some as far as Inverness, he set time records which have rarely, if ever, been equalled since.
In the course of training for one of these events, he was seriously injured in a collision with a car and was lucky to escape with his life.
In 1953, he was called up for National Service, joining the Seaforth Highlanders and, after training, found himself among the barren rocks of Aden, even then a hotbed of insurgency as Britain struggled to maintain its grip on the tail end of Empire.
There in the desert he experienced the harsh reality of active service as comrades were killed or injured around him, but also formed lifelong friendships with the men he served with, one or two of whom were present at Strathy to pay their last respects.
On demob, Lance-Corporal Bruce moved from one service to another, joining the UKAEA Police at Dounreay for a short time before becoming part of the Caithness County Police Force which was later merged in to the Northern Constabulary.
After spells as a constable in Thurso, Mey, and Thurso once again, he moved to Bettyhill in 1977 to become sergeant of the North Coast Section, arriving in good time for the worst snowstorm in living memory in January 1978.
The drifts were so deep in the hinterland of Bettyhill that mechanical equipment was overwhelmed and, in many places, had to be dug out by hand. Donald, of course, was right there in the thick of it, excavating the snow in an arctic landscape with all his considerable strength.
He retired in 1991 but, as this master of many trades had yet another up his sleeve, took up employment as a gillie for Derald H. Ruttenberg, New York-based philanthropist and industrialist whose extensive portfolio included a share in the River Naver.
He also maintained his poultry fancying interest, judging and exhibiting across the UK and Scandinavia.
This meant a lot to him and, though he spent his professional life keeping the peace, he was always prepared to stand up for his birds.
Once, when travelling by sleeper to a show in England, the train drew into Pitlochry station in the middle of the night and his prize cockerels, roused by the platform lights, started to crow vigorously.
This alerted the guard who grumpily informed Donald that he would have to get off the train immediately together with his “livestock”.
Drawing himself up to his full height Donald retorted: “Is that so? If you want me off this train you will have to put me off by force!” There was no more trouble from the officious attendant and the two Donalds, father and son, managed to silence the cockerels by covering their cages with coats without any resort to violence.
In spite of all these many interests and accomplishments, Donald’s life centred round his family – his wife since 1961, Lucy Macintosh of Portskerra, his daughters, Susan, Alison and Karen, his son, Donald, who, together with his own son, Luke, carries on the fur and feather tradition, and his other grandchildren, Mark, Liam, James, Eva, Adam, Rebecca and Jaden.
The sympathy of the entire community extends to all of them at this difficult time, a community made poorer by the loss of this hospitable and gregarious gentleman who always had a good story to tell.
The funeral service was conducted by the Reverend Heather Stewart of Thrumster and pall bearers at Strathy Cemetery were: Donald Bruce, son; Luke Bruce, Mark Mackay, Liam Mackay, Adam Matheson, James Mackay, grandsons; Charles Harrold and Malcolm Begg, nephews; Bennie Murray and Don Mackenzie, comrades from National Service. – JAJ