Obituary: Very Rev Dr Bill McDonald, Mayfield Parish minister

Born: 3 June, 1924, in Edinburgh. Died: 9 December, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 91.
The Very Rev Dr Bill McDonald. Picture: Church of ScotlandThe Very Rev Dr Bill McDonald. Picture: Church of Scotland
The Very Rev Dr Bill McDonald. Picture: Church of Scotland

For more than 30 years the Very Rev Dr Bill McDonald was minister at one of Edinburgh’s most renowned churches: Mayfield Parish. He brought a calm authority to his ministry and combined an excellent pulpit presence with his concern for his parishioners and the kirk at large.

He had the ability to deliver a distinguished and thoughtful sermon with lighter moments – a long- standing parishioner at Mayfield Kirk recalled Dr McDonald once announcing a hymn and adding: “We will only sing the first two verses. But if we don’t sing it very well we’ll sing the third verse too.” Dr McDonald had a deep love and devotion for the Church of Scotland: his service to the Church was unflinching and total. As an individual he had a modesty and serenity that matched his gracious manner and personality.

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Professor David Fergusson, Principal of New College, who served as Dr McDonald’s student assistant in 1979-80, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Bill’s ministry was distinguished in many ways but perhaps above all by his imaginative presentation of the Christian message. His preaching maintained a remarkably high standard each Sunday morning and evening in Mayfield Church for over 30 years. His sermons were variously compared to a fine glass of wine or a Mozart concerto; only with the aftertaste or upon regular listening did one come fully to appreciate their brilliance.”

William James Gilmour McDonald (known affectionately as Bill) attended Daniel Stewarts College and was Dux of the school in his final year. He read classics at Edinburgh University, gaining a First, before studying theology at New College. During the war Dr McDonald served as a captain in the Royal Artillery in India and the Far East. On being demobbed he was an assistant at St Cuthbert’s in Lothian Road and his first charge was at Limekilns in Fife, a centre of worship for all denominations involving the nearby Rosyth Dockyard.

He was inducted into Mayfield in 1959 and proved a popular and inspired appointment from the outset. Dr McDonald was an enthusiastic supporter of the younger members of the kirk and introduced two innovations which have become part of the annual traditions of the church, the candlelight Christmas Eve carol service and the early morning Easter Morning service in the church garden.

Dr McDonald’s daughter, the distinguished broadcaster, Sheena McDonald, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Dad loved life. He loved music – jazz in particular – and books. He loved walking – long walks across Rannoch Moor and the Lairig Gru – and climbing. He always had a great sense of compassion, of intellectual curiosity and of humour.”

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Dr Macdonald was a well-known voice on Prayer For The Day on Radio Scotland and the Today programme. He served the church in many capacities and was on numerous committees most notably acting as Convener of the Assembly Council (1984 -87), chaplain to the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, Visiting Professor at various Scottish universities and in 1995 Warrack Trust Preacher at the Scots Church in Melbourne. He retired from Mayfield in 1992.

In 1952, Dr McDonald married Patricia Watson. She survives him with their three children.

There is a memorial service at 1100 on 8 January at Mayfield Salisbury.