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Obituary: Tom Heggie, councillor, minister and teacher at Nairn, Forres and Fochabers

Tom Heggie.
Tom Heggie.

Teacher, minister and Highland councillor Tom Heggie, a rebel with many a cause, has died aged 70.

His impact on the communities that he served throughout his life was far-reaching and enduring and in particular, through his work as a minister and a teacher, he influenced the lives of countless young people.

He was a champion for the less fortunate and a powerful supporter of the underdog and utilised his leadership talents many times in this regard.

Campaigner

During the course of his life he was a tireless advocate for the town of Nairn and was involved in driving many improvements there. He was particularly committed to projects to improve social housing and education.

He served one term as a Highland councillor and successfully pressed hard for a new Nairn Academy building and Nairn bypass.

Supporting children

Tom and his wife Mary also formed the Nairn branch of Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline and over a 13-year period brought more than 100 children to Scotland for respite from the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.

A Fifer and proud of it, Tom was born in June, 1951 at Blacketty Side Cottages, Lundin Links, to Will and Christina and grew up with siblings Bill, Jean, Christina and Catherine.

Sportsman

His secondary education took place at Bell Baxter High School in Cupar where he captained the 1st XV and played against future Prime Minister and fellow Fifer Gordon Brown.

When he left school, Tom studied at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, and graduated BSc in maths and chemistry.

In his final year, he felt called to the ministry so went on to study practical theology and Christian ethics at St Andrews University and graduated Bachelor of Divinity (hons), driving bakery vans and buses to help fund his studies.

Ministry

At the age of 24, he was called to be minister at Forth St Paul’s in Lanarkshire where his long hair and flares made an impression.

He also made a strong impression on the youth of the town, 200 of whom joined his youth club.

During this time in the 1970s, Tom was also involved in the resettlement of Vietnamese boat people in his area.

Kirk board

He then moved to Nairn Old Parish Church and also served on the Church of Scotland’s board of education, and youth committee preparing material for Sunday Schools.

Tom, who had a congregation of more than 500, also served on Moray Firth Radio’s Christian council and taught religious education at Nairn Academy.

He then decided to pursue a career in teaching and qualified as a teacher of RE and maths at Jordanhill College in Glasgow, again funding his studies by driving buses.

Teaching in Fife

Auchmuty High School in Glenrothes was his first post where he established an RE department and he then moved to Milne’s High School, Fochabers as assistant principal teacher.

From there he moved to Forres Academy and was soon promoted to head of the religious and moral education department.

It was during his time teaching at Forres that Tom was persuaded to return to the ministry part time at Nairn Congregational Church.

Pulpit exchange

The active congregation quickly grew from 20 to 300 and Tom became full-time minister, during which time he led the funding and building of a new church extension and also completed two pulpit exchanges, in Australia and Carlisle.

During their time supporting Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, Tom and Mary galvanised the support of host families and businesses and carried out endless fundraising to ensure children from Belarus could enjoy breaks in Scotland.

Many of the children kept in touch with the couple and some attended Tom’s funeral virtually.

Tribute

His stepdaughter, Catriona Mackie, said: “Tom was a rebel with a cause. He was a larger-than-life figure, a character with a real talent to make connections with people from all walks of life.

“He was, of course, a deeply religious man, rising every day at 5.30 am and taking time for quiet reflection and prayer.

“He never pushed religion: his mantra instead was always that actions speak louder than words and he preferred to attract followers to his causes not by what he said but what he did.”

In 2007 he returned to teaching maths at Nairn Academy and also worked as an SQA marker.

Local authority

He was an independent councillor for Nairn and Cawdor for a single term and worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of the area.

In his free time Tom watched rugby, tended his allotment, enjoyed books, the work of Robert Burns and also wrote his own poetry and short stories.

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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