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John Tait: Cairnbulg pharmacist, preacher and former missionary dies aged 86

Retired pharmacist and missionary, John Tait, has died aged 86.
Retired pharmacist and missionary, John Tait, has died aged 86.

It’s not everyone who can pinpoint the exact dates in life when everything changed for the better.

But Cairnbulg’s John Tait could.

A look back on the life of the former missionary, preacher and pharmacist who has died aged 86, will reveal the moments and milestones that shaped the man who lived to tell people about God.

Whelks, fitba’ and the flute band

John Ritchie Stephen Tait was born on February 7, 1935.

He was the fourth son of Gilbert and Chrissie Tait of Cairnbulg.

Brother to Alec, Robert, Gilbert and Jessie, if he wasn’t filling the milk pail at the farm, he would have been enjoying living on the coast, collecting whelks, playing football with his friends or marching in the village flute band.

Shown front right is a teenage John Tait, on the same flute he played into his 80s.

Little did he know that on November 16, 1947 – not even a teenager – the direction of his life would change forever.

That night, attending a church service with his friends, the pastor of the village’s tiny Pentecostal church issued an invitation – one too compelling for John to turn down.

The Beckett boys

Sharon, John’s daughter said: “Pastor Tom Beckett preached and dad, along with his four best friends, all became Christians that night.

“Each of them, known as Bena’s John, John Sim, Andrew Cardno, James Sutherland and my dad responded, becoming what was known as the Beckett boys.

Cairnbulg Assemblies of God Church where John was a member, pictured on a summer day trip.

“He could remember the date – ‘the night he got saved’, he’d say. It was a turning point in his life.”

Marriage made in hymnals

When John was 14 another significant moment occurred, in the least likely of places.

As he handed out the red church hymn books at the door of Cairnbulg Assemblies of God church in walked a visiting holidaymaker Elizabeth Alexander Shaw.

John Tait and wife Elizabeth (nee Shaw) at their 1959 Paisley wedding.

The pretty teenager from Paisley was visiting the area – and the church – on the invitation of her former pastor, now ministering in the North-east.

Elsie, as she was known, accepted the hymn book, and what turned out to be the beginning of a life journeying the globe together.

Pursuing pharmacy

John had attended Inverallochy Primary School, then Fraserburgh Academy before moving on to study pharmacy at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

The captain of his school football team, known for his speed on the left wing, would initially work for Boots the Chemists after graduating, but still had to do national service which took him off to Edinburgh and Perth.

Mr and Mrs Tait would go on to be married for 62 years.

On March 28, 1959 John and Elsie married in her home church in Paisley.

Unknown to the couple, a switch to Glaxo as a medical rep would open the door for adventures well beyond the shores of Scotland.

Aberdeen to Africa

By 1965 they had added three children to their family: Sharon, Iain and Fraser.

And in 1966 John and Elsie attended the national conference of their group of churches, in Clacton Essex.

Sharon said: “A man called David Newington spoke about Lifeline to Africa – a ministry involved in sharing Christian literature – and put out a call for professionals to sign up.

News of John being redeployed to South Africa.

“My mum was a nurse and dad was a pharmacist so they were the perfect candidates. And when the man shared this call something stirred in them both.

“They had to support themselves, and their three young children, but they said yes.”

By February 1967 the Taits had landed in Johannesburg for a new life in Durban, South Africa.

Missionary life

Handing out Christian pamphlets, the team on the ground on the dusty, hot roads of KwaZuluNatal were doing what missionaries of the past had failed to do: translate the message into local languages.

“My dad was really committed to this work – and worked so hard, with an interpreter to make sure people heard the message in their own language. It was very forward thinking when you think how it was done in the past,” Sharon added.

Elsie and John visiting friends in Africa, where they had served as missionaries in the 70s.

Working for Glaxo in Africa meant John and Elsie could also financially support the work of Emmanuel Press which translated the Bible into 11 different languages.

Death threats and apartheid

John’s faith-based work took him into schools, prisons and the homes of those around him but by 1976 the political climate had changed.

The Soweto riots, shootings, killings and even death threats to him and his South African pastoral colleagues meant life was becoming dangerous for the Tait family.

The Apartheid system had begun to be challenged but by 1979 John and Elsie left South Africa for Scotland, as it was no longer safe to remain.

Pharmacist and pastor

A change of continent didn’t change John’s determination to share the ‘good news’ with those around him.

Still working as a pharmacist he also pastored churches in Greenock, Paisley, Peterhead and Swindon.

John and wife Elsie, captured in their younger years.

His children followed in their parents’ medical footsteps.

Sharon became a pharmacist, Iain a consultant surgeon and Fraser went on to become a dentist.

The couple were honoured for their work in supporting missions.

And not even retirement could stop him doing what he loved.

In his 60s he set up Emmanuel Press UK – the British-based fundraising arm of the missionary organisation he’d served with in South Africa.

Returning home

In 2003 John and Elsie returned home to the Cairnbulg area living in Inverallochy where they enjoyed visits from their daughter and sons, their six grandchildren Victoria, Joanna, Alexandra, Olivia, Aaron and Finlay.

Suffering a stroke wasn’t even enough to slow down the pace of John as he continued to share his story and his faith with his carers.

Shown from left is John and Elsie Tait with pastor Peter Goodchild, chairman of Emmanuel Press South Africa, Sharon Tait Buckle and her husband, Martin.

Pastor Iain Duthie of King’s Church in Aberdeen paid tribute to John.

He said: “There is no doubt that only heaven will be able to tell the stories of the many lives that have been touched, influenced and had their eternal destinies altered because of the pastoral work undertaken by John at Greenock church, Peterhead and more laterally in the North-east assisting and helping in St Combs and Cairnbulg.”

At his funeral in Cairnbulg AoG church near Fraserburgh where he first became a Christian all those years earlier, his favourite hymn made famous by Elvis Presley, ‘Who am I?’ was played.

The words include a phrase to sum up the way John spent his life, in dedication to his faith in Jesus: “When I’m reminded of His words – I’ll leave you never. If you’ll be true, I’ll give to you, my life forever.”

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