“Everybody’s my friend in the distillery,” says Margaret, and it’s no surprise that’s so. Proud housekeeper, chuckler, sausage-supplier, and generous distillery stalwart, Margaret Shaw retires today. She has looked after a few generations of our staff and visitors and set them on the right track in the mornings with a stupendous breakfast. Here’s some of her story.
Margaret’s mother was a Port Charlotte girl who went into service in Glasgow. Her father was out at sea, for sometimes 9 months at a time, sometimes as far away as Japan. Margaret has been in Islay all her days; “I can’t imagine life anywhere else.” After leaving school at 15, she had wanted to become a nurse, but it was only her brother who could go off for further education to the mainland. Instead she went into working in McDonald’s shop in Port Charlotte, one of three in the Main Street then. It had an electrical workshop upstairs and sold everything “from a needle to an anchor.” Husband Donnie, a postman, impressed her in those days with his motorbikes. For 30 years, they had a little hiring business, with two buses. She’d go around Loch Gruinart and pick up the children for school, including the Hannett children Adam (now Head Distiller) and Kate (our roving reporter) and Andrew Jones (our supplier of malting barley from Coull Farm).
Donnie died suddenly, 15 years ago, and the job coming up at Bruichladdich, “was a godsend, when I was at my most vulnerable. The whole Bruichladdich experience has been a joy to me,” she says. “Me and Mary McLellan, we used to do everything!” Everything being bottling hall, cleaning, Jim (McEwan)’s filing, Simon’s birthday parties, cooking two nights a week for the whisky-making Academy… “They were good days, the old days, Jim was very good to us. I’ll tell you, they had some parties up here…” She really treated the Academy House like her own, and many people from all around the world got the benefit of her hospitality there.
We’ll miss her badly, but no doubt her grandchildren will enjoy a bigger share of her time. And we know where she lives, so she can’t be passing our door without stopping to say hello. She’ll have to collect her monthly staff bottle, at least, she’s earned a lifetime supply of those. And she can admire the pile of ironing she no longer has to do…