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Final voyage for South Uist merchant seaman, Captain Anthony Lightfoot

The remains of the 88-year-old were returned to the islands for his funeral mass.

Captain Anthony Lightfoot who made South Uist his home.
Captain Anthony Lightfoot who made South Uist his home.

A celebration of the life of Captain Anthony Lightfoot took place in South Uist, after the retired merchant seaman took one final voyage over the Minch.

From his residence at Ach an Eas Residential Care Home in Inverness the former captain, better known as Tony, was transported through the Highlands, over to Skye and then from there to North Uist.

Hi son Archie said: “The sea was calm, the weather was good, and we had the great pleasure of watching a minke whale breaching several times shortly after leaving Uig.

“As we drove from Lochmaddy through North Uist, Benbecula and on to South Uist, the islands were bathed in beautiful, crystal clear, mid-summer sunshine. His remains were received during a short service at St Peter’s Church in Daliburgh. Mass was said the following day, then on he went to Hallan Cemetery.”

A life at sea

Anthony Desmond Lightfoot was born in Bexley, Kent, on September 6 1934. One of seven children to George and Mary Lightfoot, Tony’s mother died when he was 12. George – better known as Jack – remarried Edie who was much loved by Tony.

“A bright lad” he passed the 11 Plus, securing a place at Dartford Grammar School.

In 1951, aged 17 he joined Cardiff-based Reardon Smith Line Ltd as a deck cadet. The company, which started shipping coal and grain between Wales and South America employed Tony initially on the Great City, which he joined in Falmouth on September 27 that year.

Love and marriage

By December 31 1957, Tony was second mate on the Orient City, docked at Meadowside Quay, Glasgow. There, he met nurse Rona Macdonald from South Uist.

After a brief courtship they married near St Anne’s Church, Corpach, in April 1959.

Anthony and Rona Lightfoot of Uist, then Inverness.

They set up home in Uist with Tony travelling all over the world for his job.

The couple had one son and in the mid 1960s moved to Inverness where Rona still lives.

Prestigious career

By 1970 Tony was promoted to master and as such was Smith’s youngest captain since the war, taking command of the company’s newest ship, the Cardiff City.

In a career spanning more than 40 years at sea, his favourite ship was the MV Bibi which he first joined on March 2 1981. Regarded by her Mexican owners as the star of their fleet, many receptions were held on board while docked on the west coast of Mexico.

The MV Bibi, on which Tony sailed from 1981 to 1989.

“Tony developed a deep affection for Mexico and for its people. He considered them to be some of the kindest and most hospitable he had the pleasure of working with,” added Archie.

His last ship was the MV Cordoba from which he retired on June 25 1990 though he maintained an interest in ships. In his latter years, through social media, he was able to re-establish contact with many former shipmates.

Piping legacy

Tony’s lifelong passions were his love for Rona and the wider family, including his grandsons Calum and Rory. He was also a fan of English cricket, classical music and stamp collecting.

Coming from Kent, Tony knew little of piping and Gaelic culture until he married “the one-woman ceilidh” Rona Macdonald.

A champion piper herself, with Tony’s support and lobbying efforts, they overturned the status quo of piping regulations preventing women from competing.

“The end result was mum paving the way for others. She was dubbed the Queen of Piping having won just about everything.”

At home in the Highlands

Over their 60-plus years of their marriage Tony’s understanding and love of bagpipe music grew. His favourite march was Mrs Macdonald of Dunach but he particularly enjoyed the piobaireachd, The Lament for Mary MacLeod.

“As for Gaelic, I suspect he understood much more than he let on,” said Archie. “Of all the countries all over the world he visited, his favourite was Scotland. He was very much at home in the Highlands and Islands.

Captain Anthony Lightfoot and his wife, South Uist bagpipe champion Rona.
Rona and Tony Lightfoot in Dartmouth in 2009.

“My father was kind, gentle and generous. He was also astoundingly stubborn. More introverted and conservative than Rona. He was a devout Catholic and became more so as he grew older. His support for the church never wavered.”

Among the family’s happiest moments of late, just weeks before his death, was introducing Tony to his great-granddaughter Mavis.

At rest

A funeral mass for Tony took place on Friday June 23 where Psalm 23 was sung in Gaelic by Ruairidh Gray.

Archie added: “My father’s grave is within a few hundred yards of the sea, on which he spent so many years. It has a direct sightline to the croft house which holds so many happy memories. It is a good place to rest.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.