A life well lived? What I learned from my Grandma MacKay…

What is a life well lived?

That’s the question that came to mind last night when I heard that my Grandma had passed away last night, aged 98.

Grandma had lived a full life by any account. Grandma 3

Iona Steedman was born almost a century ago in Canada, and grew up in a small church community in Winnipeg. She met Rev Angus Findlay MacKay when he came to Canada for a tour of church preaching, and they fell in love after a whirlwind romance.

Iona and Angus were to come back to Scotland to make their life together, but they couldn’t arrange tickets for the same ship.  So Angus left New York first, to be followed shortly by Iona.

And as it happened, Grandpa left on the very last passenger liner out of New York before the US came into World War II.

So Iona and Angus had to wait seven long years before she could join him in Scotland, during which time their only communication was by way of censored letter.


And Grandma always had that sense dramatic otherness about her.

She was the wife of Free Presbyterian minister, but seemed to dance on the edges of accepted tradition. Dad tells stories of Grandma installing a family Christmas tree in the manse pantry, at a time when Christmas was thought to be ‘of the devil’.

And I remember fondly her sense of mischief, telling us bible stories but making wee jokes as she did – “Shadrach, Meshach and To-Bed-You-Go” in the fiery furnace was my favourite.

But make no mistake, she was quite the capable lady.

Grandma was the first woman in her family to go to university, was fluent in German, and had an aptitude for playing the piano.

Grandma all but ran Inverness Town Hall for many years in her role as the local provost’s personal assistant.

BallifearyHouseAnd in a fitting circle of life, Grandma was responsible for helping set up Ballifeary, the FP church nursing home on the banks of the River Ness, where she would later spend her last years.

So what have I learned from Grandma?

1. Faith

Grandma was a woman of faith.

And she walked with her God for many, many years.

As a child growing up, I think that influence of my grandparents – their words, their smiles, their lives – was important for my own journey of faith. And they remained committed to their faith throughout.

Grandpa was minister of Inverness FP Church at the time of Lord MacKay’s ex-communication from the church – a difficult and trying time for both of them, especially as my other Grandfather, Seanair MacLeod, was leading the church at the time as Moderator.

And Grandma supported Grandpa as he preached well into his 80s, reaching 50 years service with the church, and supported him when it was time for him to step back.

And even when Grandma was bed-ridden and failing, she seemed to still enjoy listening to her family sing psalms, read the bible and pray.

Whatever your faith background, that is quite a testimony.

2. Humour

Grandma approached life with a twinkle in her eye. She experienced her fair share of difficult people and situations over the years, but seemed to meet them all with a patient smile.

And being a FP minister’s wife, that can’t have alway been easy.

I remember spending many Christmases with Grandma and Grandpa as a child, against a background of presents, smiles and laughter.

And it wasn’t always smiles.

There were problems; all families have them.

Sometimes there seemed to be more tears than anything else.

But at the end of her life, her smile remained.

3. Patience

Grandma and Grandpa’s story is just breath-taking.

A whirlwind romance. Separated for seven years.  Surviving a world war. And then a long and happy life together.

It’s funny how life repeats itself.

I met my wife, Lynn, when I went out to Kenya for a two-week justice mission trip, while she was working as a legal intern there for a year.

We stayed in touch by email, got to know each other, and started a relationship when she returned to London and I in Edinburgh.

And here we are now, with five-week old Findlay, named after his Great Grandfather whom he never met.

Patience, as the cliché goes, has its own rewards.


Will I miss my Grandma?

Most certainly.

Can I learn anything from her?


Was her life well-lived?



One thought on “A life well lived? What I learned from my Grandma MacKay…

  1. Neil A MacKay says:

    Thanks Andrew,
    Lovely piece of heartfelt writing!
    Dad XX

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