Donald J. MacRae, 83, Was a Great Scotsman

Donald J. MacRae, the venerable commodore of Scots on Martha's Vineyard and beyond, died on Sept. 25 at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston following complications from heart surgery. He was 83.

A year-round resident of Edgartown since 1978 and a summer resident for nearly 50 years, Mr. MacRae was a well-known Vineyard figure who wore many hats, but none more elegantly than when he was the drum major in the annual Fourth of July parade in Edgartown. For 40 years he led the Scottish pipe band in the parade, adorned in full Scottish dress from his custom kilts to his immaculate spats.

Along with his dear friend Peter Clough, he was also a diehard fan of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School football and hockey teams and he arranged his life around the team game schedule in the fall and winter. When the weather turned cold Mr. MacRae was a standout at the games, wearing his raccoon coat and rooting madly for the home team.

Donald Judson MacRae was born on April 12, 1921, in Concord, the son of Austin D. and Cora (Wood) MacRae. Both his parents were of Scottish heritage and he participated in Scottish events such as the Robert Burns supper from an early age with his father and grandfather.

He grew up in Concord and attended schools there, graduating from the Concord High School in 1940. He played goalie on the Concord high school hockey team. He attended Babson's New England Business School and was graduated with a junior degree in business administration in 1941.

In 1942 he enlisted in the United States Army and served until 1946, achieving the highest rank of Tech 5. While in the Army he attended the coastal artillery school, the water safety school and served as the section crew chief of a radar crew at Swampscott. He served in the Philippines as an ambulance driver and was stationed in the Asian Pacific theatre from September of 1945 until February of 1946.

While stationed in Swampscott, Mr. MacRae met Anne Flaherty, a Beaver College student at the time; they were married on Jan. 20, 1945. They had one son.

Mr. MacRae had a long career in business; his first job was working the sales counter at MacRae Company, a family-owned plumbing, heating and appliance store in Concord.

From 1947 until the 1950s he worked as a sales representative for various furniture manufacturers. From 1958 to 1967 he owned the MacRae Furniture Co. in Sudbury. He later worked in sales for the Simmons Corp., the Sheraton Corp., and Gem Industries.

Mr. and Mrs. MacRae first came to the Vineyard in the mid-1950s with their Sudbury friends Bill and Bonnie Grey, renting a cottage from Esther Chadwick Conkling next to the Chappaquiddick Bathing Beach. In 1960 they built their own cottage, Eyrie, on Manaca Hill.

In 1978 they bought the old Donnelly house on North Summer street in Edgartown and moved to the Vineyard year-round. They later moved to a home in Planting Field Wood in Edgartown. They continued to spend every summer at Eyrie on Chappaquiddick until they sold the cottage in 1994.

Mr. MacRae was a member of the Chappaquiddick Beach Club from its inception until 1998, and he was club president from 1977 until 1979. He was a member of the Edgartown Yacht Club, the Edgartown Reading Room, the Holy Ghost Society, the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (life member) and Springdale Hall in Camden, S.C. He was a founding member of the Scottish Society of Martha's Vineyard and a member of the Clan MacRae Society of North America; he served as a commissioner for New England, and was named the second fellow of the society, an honor predicated on service. He was a fellow of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries and a member of the Caledonian Foundation.

He was a founder and former commodore of the Royal Chappaquiddick Yacht Club, a spoof organization formed by the MacRaes and a group of fun-loving friends in the late 1960s.

He was a past director of the Martha's Vineyard Arena, past president of the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Rotary International chapter in Sudbury.

He served on the Edgartown traffic planning committee in 1979; he was a member of the Edgartown sign advisory committee from 1983 until present and was its current chairman; he served as an alternate to the Edgartown zoning board of appeals from 1986 until the time of his death.

His devotion to all things Scottish was unflagging. He organized the first pipe band in the Fourth of July parade in 1964, and led the band himself as the colorful drum major. In recent years when it became difficult for him to walk the entire parade route, he rode in a golf cart driven by Mark Hess, to the delight of his many fans. This year he was a spectator at the parade for the first time in four decades, and the pipe band stopped where he stood to play a special tribute.

His love for his Scottish heritage was matched by his love for his two grandchildren, who were born on the Island and grew up here. Throughout their school years Mr. MacRae attended nearly every sporting event, play and concert with the zeal of a young parent.

He was an amateur gardener and a handyman and was always involved in some sort of fixup project on his home. He was a natty dresser who loved parties and drank champagne and had a penchant for collecting smart cars. He loved to travel and took many interesting trips over the years.

He is survived by a sister, Dorothy M. Kennedy of Grand Rapids, Minn.; his son, Peter B. MacRae of Chappaquiddick; his two grandchildren, Emily B. MacRae of Manchester, and Judson B. MacRae of Cambridge. He was predeceased by his wife in 2000; a sister, Gene F. Stanley, in 1955; and a brother, David, in 2000.

A memorial service will be held on Oct. 15 at noon at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, with the Rev. John Schule presiding. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, Box 5277, Edgartown, MA 02539; or the Martha's Vineyard Arena, Box 2062, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.