It’s an odd feeling this, sorting through someone’s papers when you didn’t know them. I never met Gordon McCulloch. And now that he is gone he’ll always remain somewhat opaque. Yet as I read his correspondence, see the handwritten addendums to letters, the typed and re-typed drafts of university essays, slowly, almost by osmosis; a narrative starts to form.
Here’s a story for you. Three men appear side by side in two photographs. In the first they are rakish and young, cigarettes aglow. Smiles – though present – are guarded. A tilt of your head and they are thirty years older. Re-united, they stand arm in arm. Hair greyed, age has told upon them. Smiles (and stomachs) much broader. Such is life. They are The Exiles: Bobby Campbell, Enoch Kent and Gordon McCulloch.
I see a jovial man, a natural raconteur, steeped in the folk tradition. A lifelong musician and collector of urban legends. A graduate of Stirling University – I leaf through his dissertation, appreciating the work and scholarly effort. I read entreaties from academics, asking him to present papers at conferences, exemplifying the high regard in which he was held by his peers. Articles and letters to newspapers show a buzzing, constantly active mind, a keen intellect continually pushing forward (the irony being that his life’s work was the preservation of the past).
But what I don’t know are the little details. His favourite tipple, what made him laugh? Such things are not revealed in his papers. The minor key notes in the music of life, the small aspects that coalesce into the intricate mosaic of what it is to be a person. That Gordon, I’ll never meet. That Gordon remains for the people who loved him, family and friends. The Gordon McCulloch in my mind exists in broad strokes, in articles and scribbled poems, in correspondence with Sandy Hobbs and his work for the Jimmy Mack show and so much more besides. It seems to me a life well lived, a full life.
Yet though I knew not the true man, part of me is presumptuous enough to feel Gordon may have approved. His papers, passed on from his family to Glasgow Caledonian University Archives, have now been initially surveyed and will in turn be fully sorted and catalogued. In this way his memory is shared and broadened. He becomes what he dedicated his life to – a story, a myth, his own folk tale.
~ David Ward, Archive Assistant.