All four of the awards recipients at this year’s Scottish Heritage Awards Banquet were honored for their work with young people.
The annual event, a part of the Scottish Heritage Weekend at St. Andrews University, honored Pat Johnston, Beacham McDougald and Judge Bill and Sherri McIlwain. The honorees received awards for teaching Highland dance, starting an exchange program with Scotland and coordinating the children’s games at the Scotland County Highland Games respectively.
“We need to bring more young people into these kinds of events,” said Bill Caudill, director of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews University. “All of our award recipients focus on connecting youth with their Scottish Heritage. It is always a great privilege to honor these representatives of our heritage.”
Johnston, who received the Flora Macdonald Award, has been a teacher of Scottish dance for more than 30 years. She has served as an organizer and official for Highland dance at various Highland Games throughout the southeast and has served on numerous boards and organizations related to Highland dance and Scottish culture.
“As one of her students said, ‘she is a role model of dedication to Scottish dance,’” Caudill said. “With the work of Pat Johnston and others, North Carolina has now produced a number of top flight, dare I say world class, Highland dancers.”
Johnston accepted her award from Caudill with a bright smile on her face.
“I appreciate the focus on children,” Johnston said. “I’m still working hard on this. I appreciate this award. I am honored and humbled to be mentioned with past recipients of this award.”
The second award of the evening was The Scottish Heritage Center Service Award presented to McDougald.
“We are honoring someone for fostering connection between youth of two very Scottish communities separated by 200 years and an ocean,” said Caudill. “He is an excellent representative of the Scots who settled this region, the heritage, hospitality, love and generosity.”
McDougald was instrumental in creating the exchange program between Laurinburg and Oban, Scotland, begun 20 years ago.
“Lifelong friendships have been formed and more than 400 students have been impacted,” Caudill said. “The shared friendships and hospitality are because we were blessed with individuals who represented us so well. It would not have happened without Beacham, a great Scot.”
McDougald shared his award with other individuals who helped with the development of the exchange program.
“I need to thank Whit Gibson,” McDougald said. “In 1991, he called to say that there was a delegation to Oban and come along. Pinny Geffert designed the sister city emblem. I couldn’t have done this without my wife Lynn and my daughter Lizi.”
While both the Flora Macdonald Award and the Scottish Heritage Center Service Award were announced prior to the event, The Highlander Award presented to the McIlwains was a surprise during the ceremony.
“As our two other awards were focused on people who have had such a dramatic impact on young people, it is fitting that we do the same here,” Caudill said. “Four years ago we started the Scotland County Highland Games. Our initial idea was to have it be a family event with activities for children to perpetuate this movement of Scottish Heritage. We need to get young people interested. One of the most adventurous portions of the Games is the children’s activities. We have six and eight year olds tossing miniature cabers and miniature weights. This is all due to the vision and efforts of a very special couple. I’d like to ask Bill and Sherri McIlwain to come forward to accept this year’s Highlander Awards.”
The couple made their way from the crowd to the podium where they received the Highlander Award pins from Caudill.
“I’m never speechless but now I am,” said Bill McIlwain. “It is very special for us. Young people’s events are a great asset to our local games. We enjoy seeing those children every year participating in the events. Maybe some day we will see the rest of what happens at the Scotland County Highland Games.”
In addition to the awards presentation, the ceremony includes the annual whiskey auction. The special bottle of whiskey brought in a $375 donation to Scottish Heritage Center.