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Language: English / GĂ idhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 12, 2024


Time for Reflection

Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader today is the Rev David Watson, who is the minister of Cumbrae, Fairlie and Largs parish church.

The Rev David Watson (Cumbrae, Fairlie and Largs Parish Church)

Good afternoon, members of the Scottish Parliament.

I came across this story many years ago. I do not know whether it is historically accurate, but I have never been one to allow facts to get in the way of a good story.

John Loudon McAdam was born in Ayr, and, as a young man, he went to New York, where he made his fortune. He decided to return to his native Ayrshire and, as a self-made man, he was able to purchase a large estate. He had a passion for family history, and he spent a lot of time indulging his passion. He was writing a book about the McAdam family, and the project became so all-consuming that he neglected his responsibilities as a landowner. The roads across his estate fell into such disrepair that he was threatened with legal action if he did not do something about it.

Annoyed at being forced to waste time on what he regarded as a rather trivial task, John McAdam resolved to do the job properly so that he would not be interrupted again. He had the existing road dug out completely. The trench was filled with big rocks, then smaller stones and gravel and, finally, a top dressing of finer material. Ditches were dug at each side for drainage. When he was satisfied with the result, he went back to finish writing his family history.

John McAdam built a road that stood up well to the elements—and we get a lot of elements in Ayrshire. Not only that, but the road did not quickly become rutted by the wheels of carts and carriages. In fact, it lasted so well that people came from miles around to see how he had done it. As his fame as a road builder grew, his design was copied around the world. The macadamised road became the standard for road building everywhere.

I do not know whether John McAdam ever wondered what his legacy might be, but the thing for which he is remembered is not something that he regarded as a priority. All of us would, I suspect, one way or another, like to make our mark. Very often, however, the projects to which we devote our time and energy turn out to be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, whereas people, conversations and tasks that seem inconsequential at the time become our true legacy.