A young bagpiper parades out of a hotel banquet room playing the familiar refrain of “Scotland the Brave.” Behind him, carrying a plated ceremonial haggis and wearing blue, green, black, and yellow Gordon Modern tartan, is 2023-24 Rotary International President Gordon McInally.
It’s Burns Night, celebrated every January with folk music, drams of Scotch whisky, enthusiastic renditions of the songs and poems of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, and, of course, haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). It is quintessentially Scottish, and McInally is in his element with friends as he marks the occasion in Galashiels, a town in Scottish Borders close to his home in Yetholm.
Heather McInally, his wife of 42 years, is wearing a sash of tartan — checks of green, light blue, and dark red — created for the 1997 Rotary International Convention in Glasgow. A classically trained former professional opera singer and music teacher, she belts out songs by Burns learned from childhood.
Contented wi’ little, and cantie wi’ mair,
Whene’er I forgather wi’ Sorrow and Care,
I gie them a skelp as they’re creeping alang,
Wi’ a cog o’ gude swats and an auld Scottish sang.
Now the haggis is something else.
It is made of a sheep’s pluck — the heart, liver, and lungs — minced with onions, oatmeal, suet, salt, pepper, and other spices, mixed with stock and then, originally, boiled in the animal’s cleaned stomach. It sounds like a culinary nightmare, but on their travels the McInallys have been spreading word of haggis’s appeal throughout the Rotary community.
Heather McInally explains how, on their visits to the States, they have sourced local supplies of haggis and even warmed up the Scottish delicacy in their hotel room microwave. “The smell of haggis lingered in the room the entire week,” she recalls. “We served it to other RI Board members while in Chicago.
Everyone seems to love it, even though they were not quite sure what they were eating.”
Gordon McInally grew up in Portobello, a picturesque seaside area of Edinburgh, notable for its beautiful beach with light-colored sand and wooden groynes (barriers to protect the shoreline) jutting out into the water of the Firth of Forth. His mother owned and operated a private nursery, and his father worked for Macdonald & Muir, which makes Glenmorangie whiskies. His late brother, Ian, was three years younger, and the two spent much of their childhood playing and watching rugby.
Gordon and Heather met in their late teens, and their relationship blossomed on a trip to Florence, Italy, with a combined choir from their separate schools in Edinburgh. “We’re not in each other’s pockets; we do our own thing,” Heather McInally says. “Even with Rotary, I belong to the Borderlands passport club [a satellite club of the Rotary Club of Selkirk], and Gordon is a member of South Queensferry. Our lives have always worked like that, largely due to work commitments, where we go off in different directions. We’re both independent people, but we always come home at night and tell each other what we’ve been doing.”
Her husband agrees. The couple have two daughters, Rebecca and Sarah, and two grandchildren, Ivy and Florence. He describes Heather as “a very, very tolerant lady who has been a great support to me over the years.”
He adds: “She’s always a good sounding board. I can rely on Heather to tell me it as it is. If I give a presentation, everyone’s going to tell me it was great, but Heather will always tell me the truth! I know I couldn’t do this job without her support.”
When they married at Craigsbank Parish Church in Edinburgh, Gordon McInally became a member of the Church of Scotland, having previously been a member of the Methodist Church. Now an elder and trustee in the church, he has also served as a presbytery elder, chairman of his parish congregational board, and a commissioner to the church’s general assembly.