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Son’s tribute to Alistair McCook: Nethy Bridge councillor and mountain rescue team founder, 95

Alistair McCook.

For 80 uninterrupted years, Alistair McCook served the people of Nethy Bridge and beyond.

Now, in the wake of his death at 95, son Sandy shares memories of his father.

A man who was a councillor, photographer, founding member of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue and devoted community activist.

In the service of others

Alistair McCook’s life of service to his community began age 15 when he persuaded his local Home Guard to let him enlist.

Sandy McCook said: “I think the best way to describe what happened is to say he kept on at them until they relented.

Alistair McCook, pictured by son Sandy, who is also a photographer.

“I like to think of him like Pike from Dad’s Army – but with brains!”

Nethy born and bred

Born on November 30, 1926 he was named John Alexander McCook but was known as Alistair from the outset.

His father John was gamekeeper and mother, Elsie, ran the house.

An only child he attended Abernethy Primary and had a brief stint at Slochd school when his dad was a game keeper there.

While Alistair was still at Abernethy Junior Secondary his father died.

At just 12 years old he stepped into the role of man of the house.

Around the age of 15 he joined the forestry squad on the Seafield Estates planting trees, seeding and doing general forestry work.

Photography

In the early years he did various jobs later started his own photography business, JA McCook photography.

Always busy he provided a mix of commercial wedding photography as well as supplying local newspapers including the Press and Journal.

In 1957 while he was taking photos at a village wedding he met primary school teacher Sheena Cochrane from Laurieston, near Falkirk.

A guest at the wedding, they fell for each other right away.

Alistair McCook on his motorbike, 1948.

After several trips up and down the A9 on his motorbike they got engaged and later married in Laurieston Church of Scotland in April the same year.

Sandy, their only child, was born in 1959.

Community councillor

Alistair became an Inverness County councillor, representing Nethy in 1966.

In 1975 local authorities were regionalised and while he didn’t transition to the regional council he did later join Badenoch and Strathspey District Council as vice chairman then chairman.

He continued in this role until the mid-90s when it was dissolved.

Queen Elizabeth II with chairman of Badenoch and Strathspey District Council, Alistair McCook.

During his tenure as councillor he oversaw a royal visit.

In 1981 the Queen and Prince Philip disembarked the train in Kingussie where Alistair accompanied them on their tour of the area.

He was also chairman in 1990 when the Queen’s Own Highlanders were given the freedom of the district.

Mountain Rescue

As a man of the hills one of Alistair’s proudest achievements was being part of the group of founding Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team members.

Sandy explained: “Established in the early 60s it was at the time when there were no official police rescue teams.

“But it was coupled with a growing popularity for visitors to the area who took to the mountains.

“There was a meeting in Aviemore where it was decided a mountain rescue team was required. My dad became one of the founding members.”

But while Alistair led multiple rescues successfully there were occasions outwith his control.

Cairngorm plateau disaster

He was team leader during the Ben Macdui tragedy – also known as the Cairngorms Plateau disaster.

It was a devastating situation where five pupils and their 18-year-old guide died of exposure during a blizzard.

It remains Britain’s worst mountaineering incident to date. 

However, in the aftermath Alistair was among those who fought for new regulations.

This meant certain criteria had to be met in future before taking school children onto mountain ranges.

“There was a collective sense that this kind of thing must never happen again,” Sandy added.

Indeed the fatal accident inquiry held in Banff in February 1972 reported that the consent form issued to parents did not state that winter mountaineering was involved.

Pictured commemorating the 50th anniversary of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team being founded is Pete Cliff, John Allen MBE, Alistair McCook MBE and Willie Anderson.

It also added that while no one person was deemed at fault, a further list of recommendations should be implemented.

These included that school parties should be led by fully qualified instructors and accompanied by certified teachers.

It was also deemed necessary that suitable locations for summer and winter expeditions should be identified in consultation with mountaineering organisations.

“My dad must have had to carry the weight of that tragic day for the rest of his life, though it wasn’t something he spoke about often.”

Royal recognition

In 2001 Alistair was recognised for his services to the community with an MBE.

He was resented with the honour by Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, at Buckingham Palace.

“He was very proud to have been awarded the MBE – and we were proud to be there with him.”

Alistair McCook pictured with wife Sheena and son Sandy at Buckingham Palace.
Alistair McCook with his wife Sheena and son Sandy after receiving an MBE from The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace.

Alistair was also a past president of Spey Valley Rotary Club and member of Dulnain Bridge Rifle Club.

And at the time of his death he was still a keen wildlife photographer and was actively involved with Abernethy Highland Games and Explore Abernethy.

Alistair’s wife Sheena passed away seven years ago and he is survived by Sandy and his wife Marion, and their children John (30) and Hannah (28).

Understated but missed dearly

His funeral takes place on Wednesday, January 26 at Abernethy Old Kirk.

“He was an understated person; someone who would do anything for those who needed it. And he would – and did – serve his heart out for Nethy Bridge.

Alistair McCook pictured on McCook path.
Alistair pictured on McCook path – a stretch named after him just south of Nethy Bridge in woodland he loved.</p> <p>

“In some ways having your father for such a long time makes this even harder,” Sandy said.

“He was a man of the hills and forest, a tireless community servant, and he was my dad. For which I’m incredibly proud and very grateful.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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