By Donald MacPhee
My dad, Pipe Major Alexander “Sandy” Uist MacPhee, passed away on Thursday, October 24th, after contracting pneumonia. When doctors determined he had terminal oesophageal cancer in September, we knew he would not be with us next year. Still, we didn’t think we would lose him so suddenly and quickly.
Sandy was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1932. Both his parents Alexandrina Edmonstone, from Plockton Wester Ross and Donald MacPhee, from Carnan/Gerenish South Uist, immigrated to the US from Scotland after WWI. As with most piper’s sons, Sandy’s father, Donald, started him on the chanter when he was four, and he progressed to the pipes by the time he was nine. Sandy competed in his first bagpipe competition in Pittsburgh at the age of thirteen. He joined his first pipe band, The Detroit Highlanders, under the direction of Pipe Major George Duncan when he was fourteen. Also, during this time, he performed occasionally with The Ford Pipe Band under the direction of Pipe Major Hector MacInnes.
When Sandy was 18, he joined the US Navy during the Korean War. He was trained as a signalman/flag semaphore. He later drove LCU’s ( Landing Craft Utility boats from ships to shore ) for the Seabees (US Naval construction battalion). He was honourably discharged in 1954.
He returned home to Detroit and in 1956, married “The Bride,” Mary Ann Catherine MacLean, who was the love of his life. Her parents were also Scottish immigrants from Shawbost and Carloway on the Isle of Lewis. For work, he joined the Dearborn Police Department. He also began teaching bagpipes and formed the Chrysler Band with Pipe Major Gordon Tuck. Together their students became the foundation of one of Ontario’s very successful pipe bands, the St. Thomas Pipe Band from Ontario, Canada. Sandy taught George and Ian Killen, Bruce Burt, and Billy Grant, and Gord taught Archie Oaks, Bob Allen, and Ed and Geoff Neigh.
Sandy retired from competition and became a stalwart solo and pipe band adjudicator throughout North America. He taught in the Detroit area having influences on John Noble, Lars Sloan, Scott MacAulay, Ian Whitelaw, and Donnie Forgan, to name a few. In 1974, he was recruited to be the bagpipe teacher in Dunedin, Florida. He continued his adjudicating and teaching throughout the 23 years he lived in Florida. During this time, he had a significant influence on his future son-in-law, Mike Cusack, the most successful solo United States bagpiper to date. He took pride in my playing and awards. Although not a lover of piobaireachd, he was still very proud when I won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meetings. But his love was pipe bands, and he was thrilled I won multiple Grade I Pipe Band Championships with the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band.
Sandy’s two daughters, Diane MacPhee Krugh and Donna Cusack, are the Highland Dance teachers at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston Texas where to date their Scottish Arts program has won 24 US Championships, as well as various North American, Scottish, British Overseas Champions and a World Champion.
Dad was not only my dad but also my primary bagpipe teacher. He instilled in me a love for the instrument. He always told me, “Do what you are going to do competitively, and when those days are behind you, give back in every way you can.” He encouraged me from a very young age to pipe for dancers, which led me to meet and marry my beautiful wife, Christine. His advice and teaching gave me such a strong influence and foundation as an Adjudicator Visiting Assessor, External Verifier, teacher, reed maker, piper, and person.
Family was always important to Sandy. He enjoyed family dinners, especially when they included his son-in-law, John’s, mince or steak pie! He was very close to and proud of his three grandchildren – Neil, Sandra, and Michael.
My dad loved reminiscing over the photos and reading the good wishes, prayers, and stories so many of you sent him. Notes from his former students throughout the years brought him particular joy. Those messages and stories led to more conversation and even more stories of the people and events in his life. Please know they brought him comfort and joy after his diagnosis.
He was very grateful for his life of 87 years and more than happy to give advice and spend time with his family. Stories from the messages sent in led to more conversation and more stories of the people and events throughout his life.
Our family appreciates the condolences, prayers, and good wishes sent from our friends in the Piping, Pipe Band, and Highland Dance communities.