11 Aug: Obituary – Dr Jack McKellar

… Dr. Jack McKellar, 1941 – 2022 …

It’s a name that won’t be familiar to most of you, especially since you wouldn’t want to meet him whilst he was carrying out his official duties, but Dr Jack McKellar was one of the first doctors to get officially involved in the early days of stage rallying. Long before safety plans, or even safety on rallies, Dr Jack was amongst that early band of medical volunteers and enthusiasts who turned out in the late 1970s, from the Snowman in the north to the RACV Rally in the deep south, to help the amateur clubs who were organising those early stage events.

His ‘day-job’ was in fact, consultant anaesthetist at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow (which closed in 2011) and he also managed to fit in once or twice a month surgeries in Oban. That also provided him with an excuse for driving. His first car was a Mini Cooper S and that was followed by a succession of E Type Jaguars. In fact, he competed on a few hillclimbs before common sense prevailed, as the car was also his daily driver.

In those early days doctors would turn up and hang around rally HQ waiting for the call from a telephone box in the wilderness or a radio message saying that medical intervention was needed somewhere and they would then respond. Jack would jump into his Saab 900 Turbo and disappear to render such assistance as was necessary. Given the nomadic nature of the sport something more was required and the FIA issued a stipulation that such events should have a doctor on standby at each stage. This meant additional work as more qualified volunteer medics needed to be found.

After years of volunteering his services to car clubs and events around Scotland, including the fledgling Tour of Mull Rally as well as the endurance style International RSAC Scottish Rally, as it then was, in 1987 he was appointed Chief Medical Officer for ‘the Scottish’. He took over from the RAC Rally’s Yorkshire based CMO, Dr John Blomfield, as the RSAC wanted a Scottish doctor in charge of Scotland’s premier event.

Of course, Jack knew the ropes by this time but John was a great personal help in establishing and formalising a medical support network and the creation of safety plans. Things have moved on tremendously since those days and safety is now an integral part of planning such events but right up until 2009 Dr Jack was still volunteering and he was still CMO on many events including Mull.

But his expertise and volunteering stretched much further than ‘home’ events as he even provided medical assistance on events such as the Camel Trophy, that huge adventurous marathon covering thousands of miles over and through the most inhospitable terrain across numerous continents. Although this event had been running since 1980, it wasn’t till 1986 that Great Britain entered any teams. Dr Jack needed no more encouragement and he signed up.

Rallying aside, Jack also enjoyed the more convivial and social aspect of the sport when organisers would gather together after an event to discuss what had gone wrong, how it could have been better handled and what could be improved for future events. Such ‘debriefs’ were often accompanied by the consumption of a soothing nectar distilled from the produce of Scotland’s barley fields, and Jack was in his element, although rarely to excess – the day-job was never too far away.

Less well known was his skill at the piano. He could often be found ‘tinkling the ivories’ if the Rally HQ hotel had such an instrument, but his father apparently didn’t want him to become a ‘musician’ hence the medical qualifications!

He retired from the medical profession sixteen years ago and later moved from his home in Drymen to his wife’s original homeland in Northamptonshire. Shortly afterwards he suffered a stroke. He passed away last week after a prolonged illness, a sad end to such a fulfilling and vibrant life.

Given his extensive support of Scottish, and international, rallying over the years, there is perhaps one simple story which reflects his commitment to the sport in Scotland and beyond. Thirty years ago a rally organiser phoned Stobhill Hospital and asked for Dr Jack McKellar, to which the switchboard operator asked: “Does he still work here?”

Yup, he was a one-off. Our condolences to Zenda and the family.

( Photos: Courtesy of Ron Cowan )