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Inverness community stalwart on his MS diagnosis and why the art of conversation is the cure for many of life’s woes

By Rachel Smart

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David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.
David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.

"I hope you’re not going to write something about me again," says David MacRae, smiling, as we meet him at his home in Inverness.

I reassure him that we simply want to hear more about his story and what has shaped his life, after he was crowned hero of heroes at the Highland Heroes awards for his generosity and commitment to the local community.

A humble and friendly man, David certainly has the ability to talk to anyone and could make even the most anxious person feel at ease.

Born and bred in Inverness, David is firmly rooted in his local community and is now instrumental in ensuring thousands of people, from newborns to the elderly, all receive gifts at Christmas. But he didn’t expect to be crowned at the annual awards ceremony.

"I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t expect anything," he says, still seeming shocked.

"I looked at the two I was up against, and I just thought I would just be there for a meal out! It was a fantastic night and so emotional!"

Speaking more about his upbringing, David shares about going to Cauldeen Primary School, and growing up in Hilton, where both of his parents still live.

For him, part of the reason he thinks he helps people is because he watched his father do it.

"My father ran the boxing club in Inverness for years and years at the Railway Station. I think he’s who I take after with the young ones because we used to get a lot of lads from all over town coming into the club then.

"They were as hard as nails – but you needed to be on them too! We were all wee rogues and most of them are still my best friends to this day!

"I watched him get alongside people and just mentor them! He also used to do fundraising and once cycled from Inverness to London with Eddie the Eagle, for charity."

David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.
David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.

David’s father was a baker, and much to his dismay, David decided to follow in his footsteps, completing an apprenticeship with Burnett’s Bakery before working at Harry Gows and then offshore.

However, at 32 years old, David’s life plans were flipped upside down when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

"My idea was to pack in offshore and then open a restaurant in town, but I was then diagnosed with MS. I was 32 when I got my diagnosis.

"The doctor phoned, and it was myself and my wife with our newborn baby, and they said ‘it’s MS.’

"When she told us, we just broke down. I had gone for tests in Aberdeen before this, and I knew it was, but it needed to be confirmed by our doctor here.

"However, the doctor in Aberdeen told me at the time, ‘don’t tell anybody.’ He said, ‘it might not bother you for years, or it might just cripple you within six months.’

"It was the best bit of advice, and I never told anyone or my work offshore. I worked for a further 19 years offshore until it started getting bad.

"It was up and down. It’s an illness that you’ve got to manage and your body tells you.

"I was quite isolated when I was offshore as I used to work earlier hours to get a bit of work done before going for a rest."

It was this isolation that perhaps spurred on David’s desire to help everyone, as he admits ‘I love to talk’.

He said: “The reason I talk a lot to people is it’s good to talk, there's far too much depression and anxiety in people's lives these days.

“You just never know who is suffering so talking is good, too many people lack actual people contact, maybe if they'd take out their ear plugs and come off their phones there'd be less of it.”

David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.
David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.

By talking to people and understanding where people are at, he can’t not help, he says.

One of the defining moments that led him to start doing more was when he ended up coaching the football team at his son’s primary school.

He says ‘he couldn’t kick a ball’ when he was at school, but ended up saying yes to helping, which led him onto to organising football events for all the primary schools in Inverness for many years.

He explains: "My son was at Central School, and he was showing an interest in football. I went in to watch him play one day, and the guy who was coaching it packed it in as his son was leaving.

"All the women around me said I should do it, so I said I would give it a try. A friend of mine, Gary Fraser, was doing the same at St Josephs, so we took the teams to the Northern Meeting Park and did it there.

"One day, I saw these two wee boys and I said ‘where’s your gear?’ and I instantly felt bad, and thought what have I said?

"Everyone else was wearing trackies and football boots and they were wearing wee black plimsolls.

"So that was that – I found out where they stayed and gave them stuff, and that’s what started me off. I wasn’t brought up with a silver spoon – we all go through tough times, and it’s realising that.

“I coached for Clachnacuddin Youth Football for 10 years and set up the Inverness District Youth Football Association with my friend Craig Crighton.

“We introduced winter football leagues and competitive football for trophies, to the dismay of some, but it grew and grew so much we'd to cap our competitions to 48 teams competing from in and around Inverness.

“We ran this from the Inverness High School, which we were truly thankful for as all other venues turned us down.”

Since then, he has done multiple things to help people, and now delivers presents to children and the elderly at Christmas time, with over 1200 parcels going out.

However, David is adamant that this would not be possible without the help of dozens of others and places like the Caley Club, which allow his team to go in and organize the parcels each year on its premises.

"It comes from people – they just help and donate," he says.

"Because I did the football, I just phone up the primary schools each year to find out how many children need parcels that year. I must have a distinctive voice because as soon as they pick up the phone they know who I am!

"We also ask them to look into how many other kids that family have and make sure all the kids in the family get a parcel.

"My mother and my friends go out and buy for the babies, and Trisha from up the road gets the pyjamas!

"I do the organising and other people are incredible and just do the rest!

David Macrae won the Hero of Heroes Award. Picture: James Mackenzie.
David Macrae won the Hero of Heroes Award. Picture: James Mackenzie.

"This year alone there were 14 people helping, and that’s not counting my mum, my wife, and my son. We also helped with Inverness Foodstuffs’ Christmas lunch and made sure that all those who were there got gifts too!

“I have so many friends that really have helped me so much over the years, without their time and knowledge of how the Secret Santa runs it just wouldn't be possible.

“A massive thank you to Trish, Ali, Alasdair, Colin, Dougal, Kenny and last but not least Sam and especially Tubs McCuish who has helped everyday.”

However, for David, it’s not about seeing people as ‘in need’, but he insists that we all need a hand from time to time.

"People shouldn’t be seen as ‘underprivileged’ as that is demeaning," he says.

"We all go through hard times, and we all just need to help one another out."

Not only does David help with the parcels, but he is also involved in a men’s group for others who have MS.

When he was first diagnosed, there were no resources, and he had no one to talk to about it. He is now making sure that other men in the same position don’t have to go through this.

David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.
David MacRae. Picture: Callum Mackay.

He explains: "There’s a group of us that meet up at The Oxygen Works, and we go for lunches too. There’s a lot of young boys, and they’ve only had it a couple of years.

"They’re not working, and some other guys who are older try to help the boys out in what to do and what not to do.

"The young ones also have a lot of information too, so it’s helpful for us all to talk about it, and also we just have a laugh.

“We are all so grateful for The Oxygen Works for allowing the men's and ladies groups to take place there.

"There are four different types of MS, and if you put a hundred people into every type, every single one is different. Nobody is the same. But we try to help each other as best we can."

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