He helped put Scottish water polo on the map and ‘lit a spark’ under some of the country’s best players.
Thanks in no small part to a childhood house move near Dunfermline’s Carnegie Baths.
We look back on the life of John ‘Jack’ Donaldson; water polo player, club president and Commonwealth Games judge.
Jack Donaldson was born on February 19, 1933.
The son of railway inspector Wemyss Donaldson and his wife Susan (nee Adams) his infancy was spent in Edinburgh but at age two – in 1935 – he moved to Fife where he lived for the rest of his life.
Living in Campbell Street, a young Jack would take advantage of the family’s tenement flat being near to Carnegie Baths.
The Commercial Primary School pupil would begin a life-long love affair with indoor watersports.
Later attending Dunfermline High School where he was the dux in geography, he would also represent the school in cricket and rugby.
But it would be swimming, and then water polo, that would allow him to compete around the country – and in later years even judge the sport on an international level.
From 1951 until 53 it was Jack’s turn for National Service with time spent in the Royal Air Force.
Stationed at Bishopbriggs and then at Norton Hall in Lincolnshire, even being conscripted couldn’t stop him finding a swimming pool.
While stationed in the outskirts of Glasgow he competed for former Scottish Cup winners, Dennistoun Baths Club.
Working in the equipment, provision and accounting section – known as EPAS – he got a taste for accountancy and his future career.
When his time in the RAF was over Jack opted for a salary over university, becoming a stock-taker in the Crombie Armaments depot before moving to the burgh’s chamberlain office in East Port, as a trainee accountant.
Courting at the Kinema
Despite a busy timetable working and swimming, Jack still had time for a night out at the Kinema Ballroom.
And it was here he met his wife Margaret McCutcheon.
Enjoying each other’s company they would attend swim meets together while courting.
The couple were then married in August 1958, at Erskine Church in Dunfermline before walking to their reception at the Co-op tea rooms in Randolph Street.
Their honeymoon in London and then in Southport while not the most glamorous of starts, must have set them up for a win as Jack and Margaret celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2008.
Starting a family
The couple’s first home was a small flat in Chalmers Street where, in December 1959, they welcomed their first son Alan.
Newly married and with a baby, Jack attended evening classes to achieve a professional qualification, earning his chartered accountant status in 1963.
By the time second son, John, was born in January 1964, the family had moved to Inchkeith Drive in Abbeyview.
Jack eventually progressed to become director offFinance for Dunfermline District Council when previous director Eric Maxwell retired in 1986.
He was part of the team tasked with preparing the reorganisation and migration of local council services under the Fife Council banner.
In 1991 Jack retired aged 58.
Although the family had always enjoyed British holidays to Ayr, Rothesay and further afield to Scarborough and the Isle of Man, in retirement Jack and Margaret travelled extensively.
Their trips included Malaysia and the Far East, the USA, the Mediterranean and Baltic countries.
Life and soul of the party
Although he was at times a serious man, great friendships and the odd dram of Johnnie Walker Black Label would bring out the fun side of Jack.
Entertaining friends and family with bad jokes but better singing, his party piece was the Wild Rover with neighbour Charlie accompanying him on the spoons.
In 1978 the family moved to Lady Nairne Road where Jack, a fan of a meticulously tidy garden, would spend many hours landscaping and maintaining the sloped ground.
The loss of Margaret
As the years progressed and health declined Jack relied heavily on the care and attention of his wife Margaret, as indeed he had done throughout their life together.
When she sadly passed away in November 2017 it came as a devastating loss to Jack.
Reliant on his sons, Alan and John, and some additional care he was essentially housebound to his bungalow on Thistle Street – except for the odd trip to Starbucks.
He loved to read The Courier cover to cover everyday, play dominoes and see his sons on their daily visits.
Water Polo pioneer
Jack spent a large part of his life devoted to swimming and water polo.
If he could no longer play, he was organising. When he was too old to organise, he watched.
As an accomplished backstroke swimmer, he began his polo career as a junior goalkeeper with Carnegie SC.
Returning from service he rejoined Carnegie as a much better player, being part of a team that won the East District league on three occasions.
As his playing days came to a close and with sons Alan and John now also swimming for Carnegie he was more involved in swimming club administration, serving as president for a spell.
He would also officiate at club, district and national galas.
In the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games Jack was also selected as a judge.
Seeing a need for something more for the young people ready for a change of focus, Jack set up the junior water polo team of Dunfermline and Glenrothes. This included sons Alan and John.
Then, under his guidance players at senior level with Dunfermline ASC won the Scottish 1st Division title gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Dunfermline Water Polo Club
In 1979 Carnegie Baths closed for major refurbishment.
On reopening Jack helped found Dunfermline Water Polo Club (DWPC).
He served a secretary and then president of the club, as well as coaching the juniors and refereeing.
In 1992 he was honoured with Life Membership.
Alan said: “I think from the early days with Carnegie ASC his coaching and encouragement got me, my brother and the Campbell brothers motivated to pursue excellence in the sport.
“Thereafter, through the formation of Dunfermline Water Polo Club in 1982 many players from Dunfermline achieved international honours, including my brother and I, and the Campbell brothers, due to the positive competitive ethos within our club.
“Committed players then travelled from Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow to play for us in UK Competitions.
“My dad even came to Budapest when the team took part in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup.”
Despite developing ill health, Jack always maintained an interest in water polo and the club’s progress.
He attended matches at the Carnegie Centre as often as his health allowed.
He was delighted also to attend a Great Britain water polo match at the London Olympics in 2012 – the first time they had competed at the Olympics since 1956.
Really a fan of most sports, Jack did love football and rugby if he wasn’t watching water polo.
A fan of Dunfermline Athletic, he had a season ticket at East End Park through their glory years of the 60s, but also had a soft spot for a certain red, white and blue team based in Glasgow.
He wasn’t allowed to talk about that in the house though.
Dunfermline Rugby Club also held his attention, and he became treasurer for the club after he retired.
A debenture seat at Murrayfield for two decades between 1984 and 2004 meant he was also able to watch Scotland play some of their best rugby matches including the 1990 Grand Slam.
Scottish music and poetry
In his younger years Jack enjoyed live music regularly visiting the folk club in Dunfermline where he saw his favourites, The Humblebums, The Corries and The MacCalmans.
He was also well versed in the poetry of Robert Burns, reciting Tam o’ Shanter in its entirety.
An extract of which, as well as A Man’s A Man for A’ That, will be read at his funeral, which takes place on Thursday, August 5, in Kirkcaldy Crematorium.
Alan said: “I think it’s definitely fair to say my dad lit an early spark under so many of us and in general made a positive contribution to the game of water polo in Dunfermline – whose players went on to have an impact at national and international level.
“He was a man who never received praise – or gave it – easily. But he was so supportive. Always there for us, always committed to whatever he was involved with. He was a good dad. A man who contributed much. A man who will be missed greatly.”