MORE THAN A LIFE'S WORK...
Dr Islay Murray Donaldson undertook a PhD in the 1977 at University of Edinburgh. It took till 1989 to get her biography 'The life and work of Samuel Rutherford Crockett' published. Apart from Malcolm McLachlan Harper's 'Crockett and Grey Galloway' published when Crockett was still alive, it is the only biography which exists to date of Crockett. Suffice it to say then, that Dr Donaldson was the leading academic authority on Crockett and his work.
I have known of Donaldson's biography for 20 years and it was by my side as an invaluable help from 2012 when I first embarked upon the project which was to become the republishing of Crockett's Galloway based work as the 32 volume 'The Galloway Collection.' And in 2014, the anniversary year of Crockett's death, as the date of the 'launch' came near, my thoughts turned to Dr Donaldson and the help she had been. I thought about trying to find out if she was still alive. I didn't know where to start. But circumstances took hold and in early April we tracked each other down. We exchanged brief emails and on April 9th as I was about to head down to Galloway, I received a letter from her.
She wrote: 'I'm replying post-haste hoping this will reach you before you set off for Galloway. Alas, you will not find me there.'
She had been invited, but unable to attend, (as I was) the conference held in New Galloway on April 5th.
She continued: 'I am so glad my book was such a help. I have felt rather like a voice crying in the wilderness and it's great to discover someone found it lively enough to be inspired by it....
She closed by writing 'So glad to be in touch with you and I'm sure we will get together some time.' All good wishes, and enjoy Galloway'
On my return from Galloway I was tired and it took me a fortnight to reflect on the happenings, but I was very keen to contact Dr Donaldson and tell her what we'd achieved. I intended to suggest we meet up in Dunbar in May as part of my planned trip to Legal Deposit in Edinburgh. I hoped she might sign my copy of her Crockett biography. And I so looked forward to finding someone the 'chat Crockett' with.
As I opened my computer to write my 'report' of the proceedings to Dr Donaldson, I got an email from her daughter, Chris, to say that she had died. This was April 29th. And so we were never to meet. I was so pleased that she was pleased with the work I was doing and so deeply regret not timing it better to let her know how well things went. But such, I suppose is life. In the last year, I've met quite a few other people who know and love the work of Crockett and I'm determined not to make the same mistake - we keep in touch regularly- and indeed the best part of my whole Crockett journey thus far has been the new friends I've made, all of whom have been helpful, generous and thoroughly supportive of my endeavours.
When I embarked upon the republishing project in 2012 my motivation was to pay due respect to the work of Crockett as a writer for the joy he'd given me as a reader. I never realised how much more he had to give me in terms of friendship. My motivation now has gone beyond that of a writer, beyond that of a publisher and I now find myself starting a whole new exciting chapter of life.
Chris has kept in touch with me since and has been most generous in sharing her mother with me - and has bequeathed me first her mother's complete Crockett library, then her collection of Crockett slides, and subsequently her full research archive. It arrived, from Dunbar to Aberdeen on a train in December. Here it is below.
As yet I've only had the chance to do a cursory pre-catalogue overview, but every file or folder I open is an absolute treasure trove for me and I realise this is probably my life's work now to go through, archive, catalogue and make best use of the contents of these many folders. I intend to keep members up to date with 'findings' via this page and eventually hope to get a comprehensive digital archive online. But bear with me, it will take some time! A month on, I've got stage one 'storage solutions' sorted and have yet to distribute the photos, transcripts, notes, family history and correspondence into appropriate places before I start work on the digitising and transcribing. It is impossible to know where to start, so I shall just start where I please and progress as best I can. Already I've dipped into a) correspondence with John and Marion McMillan and b) the Hodder & Stoughton publishing contracts - so I'm guessing these will be my kicking off points. But don't hold me to that. I know that each folder that I open, each page that I read, I'll be connected not just to SRC but also to Islay Murray Donaldson, and I want to enjoy the experience at every step. I feel I've gone beyond being a writer and publisher now, to thinking of what I do as the conservation and restoration. Crockett wrote of 'ordinary' Gallowa' folk, and it is this grassroots culture that has meant so much to me and which I now hope to do my bit to conserve and restore through my work on the Crockett archive. If I do my job well, I hope I'll leave a legacy that all who love Galloway will be proud to own.
I'll be back in February with an update...