Against all odds: Graduation success for David

A loving husband, father of five and cancer-charity champion will celebrate the end of a challenging four years when he graduates this Friday (4 December) with a BA Honours degree in Social work from Robert Gordon University.

David MacRae (53) who hails from Hartmount Holdings, Tain, has battled through family bereavement, the stresses of balancing studies with full time work and his own health issues to appear at Friday’s ceremony.  David dedicates his achievement to the memory of his late son, Euan (who would have been 18) who sadly passed away in September of 2007.    

David took the first steps in his social services career following the threat of redundancy from his previous employer in the oil fabrication industry.  He was offered a retraining grant that allowed him to start an HNC in social work which, in turn, helped him secure a permanent placement in the Highland Council’s Children’s Residential Unit (where he had worked previously in a part time capacity).    

His passion for the job prompted him to seek further education in the form of the University’s BA Honours Degree in Social Work in Residential Childcare.  However, just prior to David’s acceptance on the course, tragedy struck as his youngest son, Euan, was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that is prevalent among teenage males.

Motivated by Euan’s determination to fight the disease, David began his studies at the University via distance learning whilst continuing to work full time.  In the following years, David and Karen accompanied Euan to Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital every month where he underwent week-long treatments.  It was during this time that the family drew on the support of CLIC Sargent – a national charity dedicated to supporting children and families who are affected by cancer and leukaemia.  The charity provides nurses, play therapists and social workers, and has homes in Edinburgh and Glasgow where families can stay whilst their child is having treatment.

Sadly, Euan lost his battle to Ewings Sarcoma in September 2007.  Before his passing, David and his family embraced CLIC Sargent’s appeals for fund raising and sponsorship and during the last five years have raised in the region of £35,000 the charity. 

David has abseiled down the side of Dunrobin Castle, taken part in a Zip slide over the river Ness, taken part in the Great Wilderness Challenge and the Tain Hill Race as well as organizing balloon releases throughout the region.  In 2008, the family held a Bike Run in Euan’s memory.  This is now an annual event, with 150 competitors helping to raise over £3,000 in 2009 alone.

David’s dedication to the cause remains unshakable, despite having experienced a heart attack in October 2007 and a consequent quintuple bypass in December 2007.  After a suitable recuperation period, he returned to his work and studies in 2008.  He successfully completed his degree in August of this year.   

“I am delighted to finally graduate this year” says David.  Many a time during the course I felt like giving up but Euan’s determination to fight the cancer made my worries seem insignificant and he gave me the strength to carry on.  I would like to take the opportunity to thank my wife, children, the University, CLIC Sargent and Edinburgh Sick Kids for the vital support they have offered me in the past four years.”

Janine Bolger is a lecturer of Social Work at the University’s School of Applied Social Studies.  She, along with colleague Jeremy Millar, tutored David throughout the course. She said, “I am so pleased for David, who has fought through the toughest of times to graduate on Friday.  He has consistently shown both a commitment to the course and also a real talent for the profession.  He is dedicated to bettering the lives of children, and acts as a shining example to all of those looking into a career within the social services”. 

David now works in a Children and Family Social Work Team for the Highland Council and aims to stay there to enhance his academic learning whilst continuing to help raise more money for the charity.