Sandy Ritchie-The pride of Buchan

Sandy Ritchie wrote his first book at 93. He’s a champion of history and heritage, loves Doric and even booked Dame Evelyn Glennie to perform in New Deer. Aberdeenshire councillor, Anne Simpson, thinks Sandy is “an amazing man” and the pride of Buchan, as Neil Drysdale explains.

Sandy Ritchie has released his first book at the age of 93. He was recently awarded a British Empire Medal for voluntary services to cultural heritage and the community in north-east Scotland and champions the local Buchan community.

He’s the man who his first book, New Deer and Roon Aboot, at the age of 93, and has gained a reputation as one of north-east Scotland’s most remarkable community champions. And Sandy Ritchie, who is now 94, has been accorded recognition at local and national level after being presented with the British Empire Medal and a Pride of Buchan award on the same day at his home in Aberdeenshire. He was privileged to receive the honour, but upset that Atholene, his wife of nearly 70 years, was not there to witness the ceremony, following her death last year.

Bertie Forbes

Sandy receiving his British Empire Medal.

Mr Ritchie worked as a funeral director for many years, but has never lost his zest for life and has met everybody from renowned musician Dame Evelyn Glennie to international businessman Bertie Forbes and Flora Garry – the Buchan Poetess. He was also among the audience who thrilled at the sight of the Book of Deer – which is more than 1,000 years old – when it was brought back to Aberdeen two years ago and later marvelled at the news that archaeologists had discovered proof of a lost monastery close to his roots. Mr Ritchie, who has been instrumental for decades in the activities of such organisations as the Buchan Heritage Society, the Book of Deer Project and the New Deer Public Hall and Community Association, was presented with his BEM by Aberdeenshire’s Lord Lieutenant Sandy Manson.

For decades, he has chronicled those he has met or families with whom he has had dealings. These included the kith and kin of Mr Forbes, who founded the eponymous business magazine in the United States, and was another who emerged from the little Scottish community. As a young lad, he took down – in shorthand – the minister’s sermon on a Sunday at the Auld Kirk and subsequently read it to his grandfather when he returned home. The bond was strong.

And, as Sandy relates: “Bertie died in 1954 and was buried in New York. But in 1988, his son, Malcolm, arranged for his coffin to be disinterred and taken home and I myself had the great honour of acting as undertaker when Bertie’s remains were re-interred beside his grandfather, James Moir, in the Auld Kirkyard at New Deer.” So, in death, they were back together again.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Sandy receiving his Pride of Buchan Award.

By 1989, Evelyn Glennie had established a formidable musical reputation, just 24 years after her birth in Ellon Maternity Hospital. Despite her hearing loss as a young woman, which led to her travelling to London to meet Ann Rachlin, the founder of the Beethoven Fund for Deaf Children, she emerged as a massively gifted percussionist. In which light, Mr Ritchie must have imagined he was whistling in the dark when he attempted to coax Evelyn back to the place where her mother had played the organ for the 150th anniversary of St Kane’s Church in New Deer. But, once again, the close ties ensured that he managed to bring the idea to fruition.

He explains: “I had quite a bit of negotiating to do with her people to persuade her to come – and at a reduced fee – and I was successful, I am sure, with the help of mam Isobel. A great evening ensued. I had to lay a wooden plywood covering on the church altar because Evelyn performed her repertoire in her bare feet, getting vibrations up from the floor. It was a never-to-be-forgotten evening that was enjoyed by around 800 people.”

As he noted, the now “Dame Evelyn” has achieved global fame. But that didn’t stop her from maintaining her links to the place where she and her family grew up. And Mr Ritchie will keep encouraging others to remember their roots and their heritage.

Main photo: Sandy and his book.

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