Development & Alumni Relations Office 

William McKaig Chief Technician, Geology Department (died January 2004)

(Appreciation by Patrick Gaffikin)

Billy McKaig was born in Scotland and, although he lived in Belfast for most of his life, he still valued his Scottish roots.  At will he could quote from Robbie Burns and could recall with endearment his school days and early employment in his beloved Scotland.  After serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, he moved to Northern Ireland where he met his wife Eva and worked as an electrician.  When the Geology Department was being constructed, Billy participated in all the major electrical work.  In 1955 Billy commenced employment in the newly-built Geology Department as a technician under the then Professor of Geology, Alwyn Williams.  Initially Billy's duties involved the making of thin-sections of geological specimens and the Department's photographic work.  Later he was promoted to the post of Chief Technician but he retained his proficiency at these exercises, which he passed on to newly recruited technicians over the years.

He was, literally, to paraphrase an old expression, 'a master of all trades' - able to undertake not only electrical work, but plumbing, joinery and mechanical work for the Department.  Billy knew every nook and cranny in the Geology building and when any member of staff - even the academic staff - couldn't recall where a set of samples, equipment, books etc were stored, Billy was invariably able to locate the elusive articles.

It was probably his Navy training that moulded him into a strict disciplinarian, a quality that did not go unrecognised by both colleagues and students alike.  Even those students who were recalcitrant by nature, Billy was always able to 'keep in line' - often to the relief and gratitude of the academics.  For the conservation of the Department's funds, he always practised stern parsimony with regard to the acquisition and use of laboratory equipment, chemicals etc - a trait which, he often joked, was ingrained by his Scottish upbringing.  If a student or colleague required to have purchased say three particualr items, Billy's response would be 'two would be enough'!  And, knowing Billy's strong character, all would know there was no negotiation on such issues!

Each year Billy drove the minibus transporting students for field-trips.  The story is told that on one occasion, before the students gathered at a locality in southern England, the lecturer had urgently to attend to other business and he intimated to Billy that he might not have been able to return in time to take the field-studies.  So, plunging a large note book into Billy's hand, the lecturer told him if he wasn't back in time, Billy was to conduct the proceedings, as all the information he required was in the book!

Billy retired from the Geology Department in 1986 and he spent the final years of his life in the Somme Nursing Home where many of his colleagues visited him regularly.  We were always amazed at his retentive memory.  He could remember the names of postgraduate and even honours' students stretching back to the 1950s!  His conversational skills and sense of humour remained with him to the end.  At his funeral service in St Mark's Church, Holywood Road, the former Geology Department was represented by both academics and colleagues.

Essentially, Billy McKaig was a true Queensman - always giving priority to the interests of the Geology Department, and Queen's generally.  He is survived by his daughter Heather, son Steven and grandchildren and shall always be remembered with great esteem by this family, colleagues and friends.

 

 

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