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‘70 years of fruit loaves and friendships’: Portsoy mourns baker Jean Donald, 84

Jean Donald of Portsoy's John Donald and Son bakery, a weel kent face for almost 70 years.
Jean Donald of Portsoy's John Donald and Son bakery, a weel kent face for almost 70 years.

For nearly seven decades, shoppers in Portsoy had one constant: whenever you would go to the baker’s Jean Donald would be there.

Whether in the back room or behind the till, customers of John Donald the baker could expect a warm smile and genuine care from the shop girl turned proprietor.

Now her nephew Graham Wilson, has paid tribute to his aunt – the woman with “very big shoes to fill” who has died aged 84.

On the move

Jean Donald (nee Wilson) was born on July 31 1938 to farm worker Jimmy Wilson and his wife Jean, in Turriff. The oldest of three and the only girl, they lived and worked on Scatterty Farm near King Edward.

The nature of farm work meant the family moved around a lot so Jean switched schools numerous times.

A young Jean Wilson, before she became Mrs Donald and the face of Donald’s bakery.

Initially she attended King Edward School, before they moved to Bankhead Farm where she enrolled at Blairmad School.

With a relocation to the Mains of Cullen, Longmanhill School came next. Then, finally when her dad began work at Tillynaught Farm in 1950 she became a pupil of Portsoy School until she left at 15.

One and only job

On exiting education her first job, with John Donald the baker, would turn out to be her last. Sixty-nine years later she was still working there, helped along by marrying the boss’s son!

In April 2022 Jean and John Donald celebrated 58 years of marriage.

Happiest of couples, Jean Donald and John, who she met while working for his father initially.

The couple met while they were both at work in John’s dad’s bakery. However, her initial assessment was that she “wasn’t too keen on that John Donald”. The stand-off didn’t last. The young couple eventually tied the knot in Portsoy Church of Scotland before heading off for a few days to Fochabers.

They returned to their first home on Portsoy’s Chapel Street.

Family business

In the early 1980s Jean and John took over the Seafield Street shop, which first opened in 1935.

Known for its fruit loaves and butteries, the real star of the Donald bakery was – and still is – its oat cakes.

John and Jean Donald, who took over the family bakery in the 1980s.

Graham Wilson, Jean’s nephew, who now runs the shop, explained.

“John’s dad – John Donald Snr – started making the oat cakes because after the war a lot of people couldn’t pay him in cash. They would instead bring him meal.

“He turned the meal into the trademark oatcakes and it became a really popular product. Back in the day Jean’s job would have been packing out the back. They would go through a ton of meal every six weeks.

“As the years went on she would serve customers, sort invoices… but her real skill was relating to the customers. She knew everybody and she cared about everybody too.”

Butteries and banter

Because Jean had come from a rural background she always loved speaking to any farmers who visited the shop.

“She just had this knack of communicating wi’ folk. She always took an interest and as a result she drew young people and old people alike,” said Graham.

The Donalds behind-the-scenes of the popular Portsoy bakery where butteries and oatcakes are in demand.

Jean and John put the business first, moving from their first house to another in Park Road before settling in Haywood Drive behind the bakery.

“She hadn’t been off work since 2006!”

Even time away from the shop usually resulted in it being a busman’s holiday.

“They went to Munich once for a bakery exhibition,” said Graham. “The shop was their life.”

‘Some woman’

When John and Jean reached retirement, despite Jean staying on in the shop, Graham and his wife Paula took over.

“We realised quickly these were nae easy footsteps to follow.

“Her life was dedicated to the business. Jean was diagnosed with cancer last October and she was told there was nothing they could do for her. She felt fine, and was in the shop on Hogmanay.

A snap shot of Jean Donald’s life in Portsoy, dedicated to the family business and her loyal customers.

“Right until then she was keeping us right saying ‘remember I have this bill to pay and that to do’.

“I was very close to my aunty. I have worked with them for 27 years. She had a great sense of humour. But I think what stands out most is how modest she was.

“Paula would say to her, ‘I don’t know how you did all this,’ and she would laugh it off. She didn’t think running a business for nearly 70 years was anything special.

“But it is special. She was special.”

Near the bakery ’til the end

Jean died at home, behind the shop, on Monday January 9.

The crossword fan’s funeral took place at the Portsoy Church Centre and included her favourite song, Dance the Night Away by the Mavericks. Afterwards guests dined on sausage rolls from the family shop.

Partners in life and love, John and Jean Donald.

“She’ll be really missed in the town. She served multiple generations of the same families and always checked in with people if she thought they weren’t themselves.  One of life’s nice people. We’ll miss her, aye.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.