12 Aug '13

News Johanna MacKenzie obituary

Although teaching and many other interests were important to her, the life of my aunt Johanna MacKenzie, who has died aged 98, was defined by the crofting family and community into which she was born in Kilmory, Ardnamurchan, in west Scotland, in 1915.

The youngest child of Duncan and Christina MacKenzie, Joey was born at a time of great change. She was the first child in Kilmory to be born in a house with stairs and a slate roof. The thatched, stone cottage where her older siblings were born had become a byre. It still stands – a monument to a lost way of life that was uncompromisingly hard.

When asked her most vivid childhood memory, two came to Joey's mind. The first was of a spring day when she came home from school in Kilmory and found the women washing blankets by the burn. They had lit a fire to heat the water and she had to tread the blankets in a large tub – "like they tread grapes in France," she said. She remembered the soft feeling of water and blankets on her bare feet and the warmth of the women working together. The second memory was in August 1930 when she witnessed, in Oban, the docking of the boat carrying the last evacuees from the remote island of St Kilda. She said: "I couldn't understand why all these grown men were crying."

Joey's father died when she was 11, but she managed to win a bursary and continue her education at Tobermory high school on the Isle of Mull, then Oban high school. She went on to train as a teacher at Jordanhill College of Education in Glasgow, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Maggie (my mother). When Joey completed her training, teaching jobs were scarce and she worked as a supply teacher in many locations. Her first permanent position, in 1941, was in Drimnin, a small community in Morvern without a proper road that was supplied by boat from Oban. The war was at its most uncertain and it was a daunting experience for a shy young girl, as she was then.

After spells in Inveraray, Paisley and Acharacle, she went to Bridge of Orchy in 1954, then to Glencoe and finally Ardgour – all one-teacher schools. She retired to Kilmory, where her brother Hugh and sister Annie still lived, in 1975.

Annie, Maggie and Hugh all predeceased Joey. She is survived by me and my sister, Mary, our children and grandchildren.

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