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Obituaries

Robert Whitelaw Mitchell (1936-2010)

ROBERT Whitelaw Mitchell, 74, better known to everyone as Rab, died of a heart attack whilst on holiday in Spain at the beginning of October this year. He was on holiday with his long-time companion Ada Wilcox and, before he died, he was joined at his hospital bed by his two daughters, Lorna and Wendy. Rab was truly a larger than life character and loved being the centre of attention at any social gathering and this he achieved by virtue of his warmth and unstoppable humour. A double leg amputee, Rab was a loyal and central member of Walking on Air, having dispensed with his lower legs in a mining accident some years ago. The loss of his legs in no way prevented him from having a full life and doing the two things that he loved best, gliding and fishing, and he was achieved in both sports. Rab
In fishing, he was a member of the Scottish Disabled Angling Team, representing his country in international contests and gaining gold medals in the sport. He was Scottish Disabled Angling Champion for three years in succession. Rab was also a founder member of the 'Lame Ducks', a disabled angling organisation which benefited greatly from his individualistic style, drive and enthusiasm.
In gliding, Rab had over 200 hours flying and 58 solo flights to his credit. He loved flying at Portmoak, soaring on the Bishop or Benarty and was a regular member of the Friday Walking on Air group. On a number of occasions, Rab attended the Feshie Mayfest at the Cairngorm Gliding Club and flew there in WA1, the handcontrol adapted K-21 operated by Walking on Air. He travelled a great deal with his sports and gliding took him to many countries. In 2004, he was a representative member of Walking on Air when they took WA1 to Ulster Gliding Club to assist them set up a disabled section there. In 2007, he visited Freedom Wings at Zephyrhills Airport, Tampa Bay, USA, where he flew with Ray Temchus, founder of that organisation. Later in 2007, he attended a meeting in Switzerland hosted by Handiflight, the Swiss disabled flying organisation and was a credit to Scottish gliding and the disability movement in general. Whilst there he entertained our Swiss hosts with a stream of jokes even though they probably did not understand them. It's the way he told them you see.
He was never heard to complain about his disability or the problems it caused, such was his pragmatic approach to it. He just organised those around him to help overcome his disability by getting them to push his wheelchair, but only when absolutely necessary. He was independent to a surprising degree, doing more things with no legs than most people do with two. Rab in WA1
He was once described as a 'kenspeckle' individual by the chairman of the SGU and when I looked that up in a dictionary it said 'conspicuous, easily seen or recognised.' Rab was certainly all of this. In a room full of people you could always pick him out. He was the one at the centre of the laughter, telling off-beat jokes or describing humorous situations to an attentive audience. On a previous holiday in Spain, Rab had persuaded a group of German tourists to assist him out of his wheelchair and into the surf. Once there, he thrashed about in the shallow breakers shouting "Shark! Shark! A shark's got my legs." Naturally the beach cleared and Rab had a good laugh. Whether the Germans laughed or not is unclear.
Early in his disabled life, in July 1981, he had lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip at Holyroodhouse Palace in recognition of his involvement with the 'Ramblers' mobility scooter project. Later, on another occasion when Rab and a small group of fellow pilots from the Scottish Gliding Union went down to St James Palace to receive citations from the Royal Aero Club, he was seen to speaking to Prince Andrew, who burst out laughing. When questioned as to what he had said to Prince Andrew, Rab said he had merely asked the Prince to "tell your mum I was asking after her." Nothing phased him.
Rab will be a sad loss to all who knew him and particularly to Walking on Air where he was an inspiration. On Monday 4 October he was laid to rest in the cemetery at Logie, Clackmananshire at the foot of the Ochills, the mountains he soared in life and where now his soul will soar forever. He will be sadly missed, but I know he would not want any tears. He'd rather hear you laughing with him.
Steve Derwin