The funeral was held today (Wednesday 11 October) of Lewisman and proud Rubhach raconteur and historian, Calum Ferguson of Portvoller and Jamieson Drive.
Calum was 93 at his passing and had suffered ill health for some time, but never lost his sharp wit, impish sense of humour and the widespread respect and affection afforded to him by his fellow islanders.
In a tribute written by his family, Calum was described as ‘a skilled raconteur and communicator who loved to mentor people (and who) will be missed by his many friends around the world, as well as his family.’
Born in 1929 in his grandfather's house at 1 Portvoller, he was initially raised in a black house but, after he fell into the fire as a very young child, his mother insisted that the family move to a white house.
He was the second child of Mairead and John (Bob) Ferguson, a ship's captain who served on a coastal minesweeper during the Second World War.
Daughter Margaret Ferguson told welovestornoway.com: “There was something about that generation, the war babies. Coming through adversity as they did, they seemed to be made of something different.
“He had tremendously happy times during his childhood in Portvoller and some of his stories of that time were absolutely hilarious.”
Professor Matthew Maciver, who grew up in the same landscape at Portnaguran, said of him: “Calum Bhob, as we knew him, was a proud Rubhach who, in his writings and broadcasts, never forgot his roots.
“He was the local historian par excellence, who never lost his enthusiasm for relating the history of his own people.
“He brought his native village of Portvoller and its individual inhabitants alive. Without his meticulous research we would not have the treasure trove of local history that we now possess.
“However, he also had the gift of telling a story in a wonderfully descriptive way. This ability is so apparent, not only in his writings, but in his many radio broadcasts.
“He has left all of us such a rich legacy – Calum Ferguson was, in essence, a much-loved man of his people.”
During his formative years Calum was imbued with knowledge of the sea, fishing, crofting and story-telling. His older brother Murdo was a renowned Gaelic singer and his younger brother John still lives in Portvoller, though they lost their beloved sister Nan in 2003.
After gaining a degree in Celtic studies from Aberdeen University and studying in Glasgow School of Art, Calum trained to be a primary teacher. His career started in Ayr, followed by becoming headmaster in Lochgoilhead.
In 1958 he married his long-time sweetheart, Sandra Macleod from Stornoway. Three children and a move to Edinburgh followed, where he joined the BBC as a Gaelic producer and scriptwriter, later to spend 15 years as head of the audio-visual department at Glasgow University.
A friend and colleague from that time, Professor Donald Meek, said: “I had the great privilege of knowing Calum Ferguson in my Glasgow University days in the 1970s, when he was in charge of the audio-visual department.
“Dr Donald John MacLeod and I often had lunch with him, and what a gracious gentleman he was! I can still see him and hear him - so calm, quiet, humorous, and measured in his ways.
“In particular, I remember Calum's enthusiastic co-operation with Dr MacLeod in the video-recording of Gaelic plays (such as Finlay MacLeod's 'Seonaidh') with students as actors - something very innovative back then! His seemingly effortless control of all aspects of the procedure was very impressive.
“True to Ferguson style, Calum had an extra endowment of creative talent – whether with literature, modern media, pen, pencil or paint and, in all of that, he was always the Gaelic-speaking islander from his beloved Portvoller, always an encourager, always a friend.
“He will be greatly missed, but his multi-faceted legacy will endure. Duine air leth.”
After retirement Calum started Lochran Media, an independent television company which went on to produce programmes such as Hiort and the Christian Watt papers.
He then turned his considerable powers to writing books, capturing a vanishing world of Gaeldom. His seminal book of 2003, Children of the Black House, published by Birlinn, drew on his mother’s stories of the individual crofters, fishermen, storytellers and scholars who inhabited his home village.
The book tells not only some of the essential experiences of island life over 100 years ago, but documents detail such as the names of fishing boats registered in Portvoller and Portnaguran in the 19th century and contemporary accounts of the land riots at Aignish.
His later works included a biography of the island character Soolivan (2004), St Kildan Heritage (2006) and a series of interviews with Lewismen and women whose lives spanned the 20th century, Lewis in the Passing, which was published by Birlinn in 2007.
His own story, Casan Searraich (Sunbeams in Memory) was published in 2014 in his native Gaelic, translated to English, by Acair. The publisher’s general manager at the time was Agnes Rennie, who described the experience of working with him on his last book.
She said: “Meeting with Calum to discuss any aspect of his book was an invitation to a cèilidh.
“We would usually manage to resolve whatever the editorial issue was but, on the way, we may have crossed the moor by way of Muirneag – discussed the life of islanders going to the city, recalled his boyhood in Portvoller and much more besides.
“Together, he and Sandra made everyone welcome and today I treasure the memory of the time spent with Calum.”
Calum was passionate about promoting the Gaelic language and culture. He was involved in setting up the bilingual Sir John Maxwell school and served on the board of the Highland fund for many years.
He won several awards for his writing and film making and was honoured by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the Lewis and Harris association for his contribution to the Gaelic world.
Calum’s contribution to the Gaelic language and to recording his culture was mentioned by many in tributes shared online.
Author Donald S Murray described him as ‘One of the half dozen or so people to whom I owe a great debt’ and said: “One of my favourite people, Calum was one of my greatest encouragers and inspirations, going way back to the time I first met him at Glasgow University.
“There was a warmth to him and a vitality and talent that few individuals possess. He will be much missed by all who knew him. A truly wonderfully talented man.”
An Lanntair’s head of literature and fellow-author Roddy Murray said the news of his passing was ‘Sad indeed. Another pillar of the Gaelic tradition bearers lost.’
Calum was a dedicated father to his children Margaret, Iain and Murdo and was also devoted to his grandchildren,
Margaret said: “He was very proud of all our achievements and, despite all his many careers, he was very present for us and guided us through life, as well as immersing us in his world.
“He loved to laugh and had a great sense of mischief and fun. He was also very generous to other people, with many instances of great hospitality, gatherings and cèilidhs at our home.”
Calum is mourned by his wife of 65 years, Sandra, brother John, daughter Margaret and sons Iain and Murdo, grandchildren Eilidh, Kathleen, Finlay, Catriona, Mairi, Suzanne, Bethany, Mairead, Calum and Sean and a wide circle of other relations, friends, colleagues and co-agers from a rich, productive and well-lived life.
The pictures show Calum at the time of his marriage to Sandra in 1958, in St Kilda during the filming of Hiort (family pictures), at the launch of his 2014 autobiography Casan Searraich (Acair) and centre stage at the Hebridean Literature Festival, Faclan in 2011, with Dolina Maclennan and the late Norman Maclean, discussing Second Sight (Roddy Murray).
The painting is by his daughter, Margaret and was used as the front cover of Casan Searraich.